Push for free hospital parking continues

Despite the continuing pandemic, evidence mounts of hospitals starting to charge staff to park once more

Signs for a hospital car park

UNISON is continuing to push for the reinstatement of free parking for all NHS staff at hospitals at least during COVID-19 ­– and for free parking for staff permanently – as it becomes clear that some hospitals are starting to charge staff yet again.

Parking was made free for all staff in the early part of the pandemic and remains free in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Wales, parking has been free for staff since before the pandemic.

UNISON believes that parking should be free for all staff on a permanent basis. This initiative has helped keep staff and patients safe, reducing infection risks by staff travelling on public transport. At the very least, the initiative must remain in place for the duration of the pandemic.

UNISON has also stressed that NHS Trusts must be provided with clarity that there is sufficient funding to allow free parking to continue, while increased accountability and consequences are needed for trusts that reintroduce parking charges.

But in spite of government assurances that parking would remain free for staff, until the end of the pandemic, some trusts have reintroduced charges. In the West Midlands, for instance, four hospital trusts reinstated car parking charges to staff at the beginning of July, while another five trusts chose not to do so.

Local organisers had reported that, when challenged, trusts say the decision is a financial one.

For NHS staff themselves, the issue remains important. As one member told the union: “I’m incensed that we are expected to pay to park in the middle of a global pandemic. This is happening while nurses are using food banks and are leaving the profession in their thousands.”

On 1 December, a debate held in Westminster Hall saw the issue raised by Labour’s Zarah Sultana MP, whose Coventry South constituency includes one of the hospitals that have reintroduced charges.

Ms Sultana told the hall that, In November, the secretary of state for health and social care repeated the government’s pledge on the subject, telling Good Morning Britain viewers: “We don’t have parking charges in English hospitals and we’re not going to for the course of this pandemic.”

She pointed out that, “as the Royal College of Nursing and UNISON highlight, travelling to work by car reduces the risk of NHS staff catching or spreading the virus. Reintroducing parking charges makes that safer option more expensive.”

Responding for the government, health minister Edward Argar stressed that the decision on parking lies with individual trusts, but reiterated the government’s manifesto pledge that “disabled blue badge holders, frequent outpatient attendees, parents of children staying overnight, as well as night shift NHS staff, will be given free parking at hospitals”.

UNISON wants to hear from members if they have to pay to park on a daily basis. Please drop an email about your experience to health@unison.co.uk