THE GOVERNMENT has announced that hospital workers will no longer receive free parking at work once the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis is over.
Health Minister Edward Agar told The I newspaper: “Free parking for staff has only been made possible by support from local authorities and independent providers and this support cannot continue indefinitely.”
However Agar also said that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) wanted to deliver on its pledge to provide free parking for disabled people, frequent outpatient attendees, parents of sick children staying overnight and employees working on the night shift. The plans were originally meant to come into effect in April but have been postponed until January next year.
“Implementation of this commitment has 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,” he said.
The government has said that free parking for staff will remain in “certain circumstances”, but there is as yet little indication what those circumstances will be.
Today’s announcement has been criticised by both politicians and medical experts, including the British Medical Association. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA council chairman, 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.”
During this afternoon’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer called the reintroduction of the charges “insult to injury”.
“The Prime Minister will know that this could cost hundreds of pounds a month for our nurses, our doctors, our carers and our support staff. We owe NHS workers so much, we all clap for them. We should be rewarding them, not making it more expensive to go to work. The Prime Minister must know this is wrong.”
The Prime Minister dismissed the attack, saying: “May I respectfully suggest that [Starmer] take his latest bandwagon and park it free somewhere else.”
Hospital parking fees for NHS workers were scrapped at the end of May after an online petition was signed hundreds of thousands of times. At the time, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the government would “provide free car parking for our NHS staff who are going above and beyond every day in hospitals across England”.
The announcement was made after a social campaign in part orchestrated by controversial journalist Piers Morgan, who voiced his outrage on Good Morning Britain this morning.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) July 8, 2020
“We have to start a new campaign,” he said. “Are we, as a country, going to go back after this, knowing that there might be another wave of [the coronavirus], and knowing what we’ve put health workers through, knowing how many have died on the front line, are we going to go back and charge them for the right to park at a hospital?
“If we think that is the way this country should treat our NHS heroes, then it’s not a country I want to be part of. I don’t believe that’s what most British people want.”
Others have pointed out that the government is encouraging people not to use public transport during the coronavirus crisis in order to allow suitable social distancing on buses, trains and tubes, and that reinstating parking charges for hospital staff sends a mixed message.
Some hospitals in England charge as much as £3.50 per hour for parking, with a day of A&E parking at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital costing £77. In Wales and most of Scotland, parking at hospitals is free.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We have been clear that during the pandemic free hospital parking will be available for NHS and care staff, and this remains the case. From January next year free parking will also become mandatory for disabled people, frequent outpatient attenders, parents of children staying overnight and staff working night shifts. Thousands of NHS patients, staff and visitors are eligible for free hospital car parking under these rules.”