A volunteer-run service that has provided “tea and compassion” at Wharfedale Hospital, Otley, for more than 40 years will end this spring.

Around 30 Otley WRVS volunteers, who take turns to run the tea bar at the hospital’s outpatient department, were given the shock news by letter on New Year’s Eve.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust says the change is needed to allow an external contractor to take over its currently loss-making catering.

WRVS-run services at St James’s and Chapel Allerton Hospital will also end in the shake-up, which will take place in April.

But Otley WRVS volunteers like Colette Kendall, of Bramhope, fear the change will be to the detriment of patients.

She said: “Everyone’s so upset about this. It’s such a shame.

“The staff are devastated too, because they rely on us for things like free drinks for people who have had bad news or who don’t have any money.

“We do make a profit for the WRVS but that’s not our main role. We’re also looking after people. We get tea and biscuits for people who come in on ambulance transport, often in wheelchairs and sometimes have a long wait.

“We don’t just sell the refreshments but look out for them. It’s that compassionate side of things I fear will now disappear.

“And the restaurant’s at the other end of the hospital – they won’t be able to get along to outpatients.”

Wharfedale Hospital matron Zoe Kirk, however, said WRVS volunteers could still help after the tea bar ends by chatting to patients in the outpatient department and seeing if they needed anything.

Councillor Ryk Downes (Lib Dem, Otley & Yeadon) meanwhile, a member of Wharfedale Hospital Forum, said: “It is a great shame that after many years of loyal service to patients and visitors, myself included, the WRVS will no longer be serving refreshments at Wharfedale.

“I would like to thank them for all their efforts. They have been very much appreciated by many visitors to the hospital.”

A Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust spokesman said: “A review of staff and visitor catering facilities has shown that the restaurant service the trust runs at St James’s, Chapel Allerton and Wharfedale currently operates at a loss, despite a number of attempts to improve this.

“We have decided to put the contract at these three hospitals out to tender.

“We acknowledge this will impact on the current facilities run by the WRVS, including the tea bar at Wharfedale, as the new contract will include all the staff and catering facilities across the sites.

“We have been keeping the WRVS informed and would like to stress that the decision is a commercial one, aimed at ensuring we get best value for money, as we do not believe our restaurants should be subsidised from patient care budgets.

“We would like to thank the WRVS for the service they have provided.

“It has been greatly appreciated and we hope they will continue to be involved in helping all our hospitals.”