Paying for parking has been brought back for NHS staff
Some staff will be more than £500 a year worse off as they battle the greatest crisis in NHS history. Union bosses said the charges will unfairly affect staff who are too frightened to use public transport because of the Covid risks and are using their cars instead.
According to an analysis by industry magazine Nursing Notes, 58 percent of England’s 206 NHS trusts started reintroducing parking charges for staff between June and August 2020.
This is despite NHS England’s People Plan calling for parking to remain free.
The list includes Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust in Surrey, which last year pocketed £3.3million in parking revenue.
Helen O’Connor, of the GMB union, said: “Our members have worked tirelessly to save lives during this pandemic and have willingly covered overtime to support the trust to deal with the huge influx of very unwell patients.
“Instead of offering them a reward for their tireless efforts, it is subjecting critical NHS staff to additional charges to work around the clock.
“They will now be expected to pay a minimum £500 a year to enable them to park at work.”
Figures for 2019-2020 show the trust made £2,550,442 charging patients to park.
A further £817,046 came from staff who are now forced to buy a £25 annual permit and then fork out a further £11 on a weekly parking scratch card.
A petition signed by more than 200 staff members demanding that free parking is reinstated has been sent to trust chief executive Daniel Elkeles.
Pay to work – NHS staff must pay
But yesterday, the Trust said it would not scrap the charges, claiming a staff free-for-all when fees were waived last year created tailbacks on roads around the hospital.
Miss O’Connor said: “In the middle of a pandemic staff should not be expected to travel on public transport due to the increased risk of infection and we would expect health boards to prioritise parking for staff.
“Members are angry at this injustice.”
One member of staff, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It doesn’t seem right. Staff are burned out, they are tired and are always being rushed into staying on to work overtime whether they’re nurses, porters or whoever. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth.
“Morale is down and everyone is struggling. It’s money motivated. Staff are very angry because throughout the past year we have all worked extremely hard.
“The public has been fantastic but we have had nothing from management to show their appreciation.”
A spokesman for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We did have free parking in place whenever possible.
“Unfortunately, as we began to reinstate outpatient appointments and planned care procedures following the first wave, our car parks became far too busy, and we had no other option but to reintroduce some charges simply to manage demand.
St Helier Hospital
“Despite offering all staff access to free and discounted parking options nearby, as well as increasing our free park and ride services and introducing pick-up and drop-off spots, the situation had become so difficult we were causing large tailbacks onto public highways.
“Finding a space was so challenging staff were late for work and patients late for long-awaited appointments.”
The scandal of charging staff and patients to park follows Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s promise to end the fees.
From April last year, all hospital trusts in England were “expected” to provide free parking to frequent hospital visitors, or those disproportionately impacted by daily or hourly charges.
Not just visitors have to pay to park
This included blue badge holders and outpatients who have to attend regular appointments.
Mr Hancock also said that free parking would be offered at specific times of day to certain groups, including parents of sick children staying overnight and staff working night shifts.
Many trusts waived fees at the height of the pandemic after public pressure and the receipt of a taxpayer-funded windfall.
But they are now quietly reinstalling them in a move that has sparked anger. It is thought at least 119 have already done so.
The move defies the NHS England People Plan, published in August, which stated: “NHS organisations should continue to give their people free car parking for the duration of the pandemic.”
Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust said it took the “unwelcome” decision to penalise staff in order to free up spaces for patients and visitors.
According to information gathered by GMB, others include Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
Some claim free hospital parking would see them wide open to abuse from shoppers and commuters.
Many trusts have outsourced parking arrangements to private companies, meaning hospital directors are largely powerless to stop the charges.
The Department of Health said: “NHS staff have performed an incredible role at every stage of this pandemic and we are crystal clear – they should not be charged for parking when they are at work.
“We are providing the funding for NHS staff to ensure they benefit from free hospital parking throughout this time, and supporting hospitals to offer free parking to thousands more patients and visitors.”