Anger as government says free hospital parking for NHS staff cannot ‘continue indefinitely’
Parking charges for NHS staff were scrapped in England in March. (PA)
Free hospital parking for NHS staff in England will end in all but “certain circumstances” as the coronavirus pandemic eases, the Government has confirmed.
Health minister Edward Argar sparked anger as he said the Government’s offer to cover charges for all NHS staff — introduced in March — could not “continue indefinitely”.
Doctors’ union the BMA called the move a “rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe”.
The offer to cover hospital parking charges was brought in by Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the height of the pandemic.
The Cabinet minister said at the time it would recognise those who go “above and beyond every day” in England’s health service.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said the move would “make a big difference for hundreds of thousands of frontline staff”.
But, responding to a written question from Labour’s Rachael Maskell, Mr Argar said: “The provision of free parking for National Health Service staff by NHS Trusts has not ended and nothing has changed since the announcement on 25 March.
“However, free parking for staff has only been made possible by support from local authorities and independent providers and this support cannot continue indefinitely.”
Mr Argar flagged a Government commitment - made in December - to ditch charges for those in the "greatest need", including "the disabled, frequent outpatient attendees, parents who have sick children that are staying overnight in hospital and staff working nightshifts".
This pledge had, he said, "been on hold whilst the NHS has been managing the COVID-19 pandemic and devoting its hospital parking capacity to staff and other facilities necessary for managing the pandemic".
Responding to another question from Labour MP Zarah Sultana, the minister confirmed his department 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”.
And he said: “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.”
'SADDLED WITH EXTORTIONATE CHARGES'
Seizing on the answer, Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Layla Moran said: “Removing parking charges for staff at the outset of Covid-19 was the right move. Our healthcare workers deserved to have certainty that they could get to work without extra charges or hassle.
"Now the Government must provide clarity and ensure our workers are not saddled with extortionate parking charges. We also need to see more efforts to promote green transport options for our healthcare workers."
And 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 spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care 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.”