Parking charges for NHS hospital staff should be abolished – and this time, for good
NHS staff tell me how high parking charges combined with low wages force staff out of the jobs they love, writes Zarah Sultana MP. | PA Images
The government has broken their promise to NHS staff. They have scandalously allowed parking charges to be reintroduced during a global pandemic
From clapping for carers to clamping carers. That is the government’s change of heart to our NHS staff. While the Health Secretary still says parking is free for NHS staff at England’s hospitals, that’s not true. Staff at hospitals around the country have been paying for parking for months. These charges should be abolished – and this time, for good.
In the spring, when the pandemic hit the UK, in response to public outpouring of support for NHS staff the government announced hospital parking would be free for NHS staff in England (it was already free in Scotland and Wales). They said NHS staff should be able to carry out their vital work without worrying about paying for car parking and claimed it would provide the financial backing NHS Trusts need to make this a reality. This was welcomed by staff across the country.
This pledge was restated by the Prime Minister in July and was repeated by the Health Secretary earlier this month. The only problem – it’s not true. It hasn’t been true since at least June, when my local NHS Trust reintroduced parking charges for NHS staff. Ever since, NHS staff at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire have been paying for parking. This has happened at NHS Trusts across the country and in spite of the second wave, more NHS Trusts are reintroducing charges even now.
This isn’t just about the government failing to keep its word. It’s about fairness and public safety too
The government has broken their promise to NHS staff. They have scandalously allowed parking charges to be reintroduced during a global pandemic. The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary seem to be so out of touch they don’t even know this has happened. When I confronted Boris Johnson about this in the Commons chamber, he told me he would look into the matter. Needless to say, I haven’t heard anything yet.
This isn’t just about the government failing to keep its word. It’s about fairness and public safety too.
NHS staff have worked tirelessly on behalf of us all through this pandemic, battling the virus with incredible courage. Often in horrendous conditions, with staff overworked after a decade of NHS underfunding and nurses forced to make their own PPE from bin bags. More than 200 health and care workers have tragically lost their lives to the virus. This has come on the back of 10 years of falling pay for NHS staff, with nurses’ and doctors’ pay having fallen by more than 8% and 9% respectively.
How are we rewarding our NHS workers? By denying them a fair pay rise – unlike health workers in France – and forcing them to pay the added cost of parking charges while the pandemic still rages. One staff member at my local hospital told me the re-imposition of parking charges felt like a kick in the teeth. She said NHS staff feel “totally undervalued and unappreciated.” A student nurse has spoken about how demoralising she found being hit with a parking fine after a 13-hour shift.
This isn’t a new issue – NHS staff tell me how high parking charges combined with low wages force staff out of the jobs they love.
But re-imposing parking charges in a pandemic is how the government has chosen to thank NHS staff. It’s a gross unfairness – and a public safety issue.
As Unison have highlighted, NHS staff travelling by car reduces the risk of them catching or spreading the virus on public transport. Re-imposing parking charges makes that safer option more expensive and even unaffordable to some.
In the past, hospital parking charges have been justified on the grounds that abolishing them isn’t feasible. That’s been thoroughly debunked by the simple fact that they were abolished in the early days of the pandemic. The truth is, it isn’t a question of feasibility. It’s a question of political will – the government just needs to find that will and fund it.
The government promised NHS staff free parking throughout the pandemic. That promise has been broken. The government must now bring back free parking for NHS staff – and this time, make it permanent.
Zarah Sultana is the Labour MP for Coventry South.