The running of shops and cafés operated by Friends charities at three hospitals has been put out to tender.
Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust has said it has invited professional catering providers and retailers to put forward proposals to run the shops, as well as its in-house visitor restaurants, as part of a review into improving the services.
Friends charities provide a café and shop at Worthing Hospital, a café and shop at Southlands Hospital in Shoreham, and a shop at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester.
David Jones, director of estates, facilities and capital at the trust, said: “We have spent the last year reviewing our retail catering services at St Richard’s, Worthing and Southlands hospitals, to see how we can make them better for visitors,patients and staff.
“One of the options the Trust is exploring is for our restaurants and shops to be run by professional catering providers and retailers rather than the hospitals themselves, so we are now inviting companies and external organisations to put forward their own proposals explaining how this might work and what the benefits for the Trust would be.”
The news was met with concern by some, who were worried about what it meant for the Friends. Steve Carroll, 56, of Melbourne Road, Goring, said: “I was absolutely gutted when I found out, it didn’t make any sense to me.
“Like most people in Worthing I have benefitted from the shop. I’ve always been very proud of it and I’ve known people who have volunteered there. The staff go beyond the call of duty in helping patients and visitors during very difficult times.
“The shop keeps prices for hot drinks to the minimum and provides healthy eating options. This is far too typical of the way our country is going as society is absorbed into large, faceless corporations, while the goodness of organisations like the Friends is ignored.”
Mr Jones said: “We hope to hear from a variety of service providers, from well-known high street names to local business. However, any organisation is welcome to tender, including our Friends, whose dedication and commitment we greatly value and appreciate.
“Currently, our Friends organisations run some of their commercial operations from the main entrances of our hospitals.
“It is possible that these areas may be identified for redevelopment as part of the commercial proposals we receive.
“Should any of these be taken forward, we are committed to working with the Friends organisations as to how we can best work together into the future.”