"I think its unfair" Parking charges could soon be reintroduced for staff at Lancashire NHS hospitals
Free hospital parking for NHS staff is due to end in all but "certain circumstances" once the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease, according to the Government.
The Department of Health has said the free parking will continue only for "key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances" as the pandemic eases, although no dates have been given.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on March 25 that the Government would cover the costs of car parking for NHS staff who he said were "going above and beyond every day" at hospitals.
But the possible reintroduction of the parking fees for front line workers who supported the country throughout the Covid-19 pandemic isn't a welcome change for staff who often have to folk out upwards of 17 pounds a week.
One Lancashire staff member, who has asked to remain anonymous, works as a Theatre Support Worker offering support to nurses and says the fee for staff is "unfair."
"I think it’s so unfair that I have to pay for my permit each month to park while going to work, I don’t have a fantastic wage to start with and it’s just another reduction I don’t need," they said.
"There aren't many other places where employees have to pay for parking, so why do the NHS staff? It’s unfair and surely there could be a system where we don’t have to pay.
"A few years ago I was on the temporary staffing and I had to pay £3.50 four days a week to park and sometimes five days a week when I worked over time. That works out at £17.50 a week."
The British Medical Association has said the reintroduction of charges while the virus is still being tackled would be "a rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe".
But last week, the Health Minister Edward Argar said the support to make free parking available "cannot continue indefinitely".
Responding on Friday to a written question from Labour's Rachael Maskell, he said that the free parking for staff had only been made possible "by support from local authorities and independent providers and this support cannot continue indefinitely."
In response to another question from Labour's Zarah Sultana, also answered on Friday, Mr Argar said the Government was "considering how long free parking for National Health Service staff will need to continue, recognising that this has only been made possible by external support from local authorities and independent sector providers".
He added: "The Government's focus remains on ensuring the commitment of free parking for the groups identified in their announcement of 27 December 2019 is implemented once the pandemic abates."
In 2018, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals announced a plan to reform parking at its two hospitals at Preston and Chorley. Staff parking permits were reviewed, with those working in office-based roles potentially giving up their permits to those with clinical shifts.
Staff on rotating shift patterns around a 24-hour clock were prioritised, as staff parking charges were seen rising by inflation last year.
Local Labour Councillor for Plungington and NHS Councillor Pav Akhtar said: "As a Preston City Councillor representing a ward in which many local NHS staff live, and where a number of NHS services are delivered, I joined my neighbours every Thursday night to clap for our NHS workers in order to acknowledge their incredible service against a disease for which there is no vaccine.
"Coronavirus has not gone away. Those NHS staff who live locally still face risks, and that is compounded by the knock on effects that COVID has had on the availability and accessibility of regular public transport, especially when it comes to accommodating the irregular shifts that NHS workers have to cover.
"I hope the local NHS Trust will work with its staff unions to try and find a solution that works."
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: "The BMA has always believed that it is unacceptable for staff who serve in our health service to be required to pay significant amounts of money to park their car in hospital grounds. This is even more salient as the nation recognises the immeasurable contribution of healthcare workers in fighting this pandemic.
"The Government's decision to waive parking charges during Covid-19 was a welcome announcement, but to reinforce them, before we've even won the fight against this virus, is a rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe."
A spokeswoman for the department said: "We want to make sure NHS staff can travel safely to work during the pandemic, which is why we requested that the NHS make parking free for staff, and that local authorities do the same with their car parks.
"When the pandemic begins to ease, the NHS will continue to provide free hospital car parking to key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances. We will provide further updates on this in due course."