Free parking pledge for NHS staff during the pandemic but some workers still forced to pay

Some staff at hospitals in the North East may still be having to pay to park at work, despite the Government telling hospitals to scrap these charges.

Government policy is that hospitals should be providing free parking for staff for the duration of the pandemic.

However, while this appears to be happening in many places, not all trusts have completely stopped making an income from staff parking.

For example, trusts across Tyneside saw no income from staff parking in 2020/21.

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However, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust saw its income remain at £705,293, compared to £705,801 in 2019/20, while South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust brought in £27,889, although that was a drop from £1.3m.

Incomes may have come from parking charges or permits for staff, fines for inappropriate parking, or income from selling parking services to other NHS organisations.

Trusts across the North East saw a big drop in parking income from staff, with the amount collected falling from £6.1m to £733,182.

Across England, income from staff parking at hospital trusts dropped from £89.1m in 2019/20 to £5.1m last year – suggesting that while many sites dropped charges there were some that may have charged some staff, at least during part of the year.

During a debate on free hospital parking in December last year, Zarah Sultana, the Labour MP for Coventry South, highlighted a number of hospital trusts that she said had brought back charges, including the University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire in June.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said: “Despite GMB’s campaign, some NHS workers who risked everything to save lives during the pandemic are still paying to park. It’s a disgrace.

“NHS trusts are cash-strapped after ten years of austerity – but taking money out of workers’ pay cheques is not the way to claw it back.

“Despite this – and with inflation rampant – NHS workers are expected to swallow a paltry 3% pay offer.

“Enough is enough – Ministers must now legislate for free hospital parking for all staff.”

As well as free parking for staff during the pandemic, since January, NHS hospitals have been required to provide free car parking for disabled people, frequent outpatient attenders, parents of sick children staying overnight and staff working night shifts.

This may, along with pandemic restrictions on visitors and some elective treatment, have led to a fall in income from providing parking to patients and visitors.

Nationally, income from parking for patients and visitors fell from £196.5m to £47.9m.

Similarly, across the North East, it went from £9.8m to £3.8m.

However, the cost of providing car parking services stayed broadly the same – falling slightly from £3.09m to £3.08m.

The Government has provided funding, both last year and this year, to cover the costs of suspending parking charges for staff and other groups.

A general image of a pay and display car park at a hospital
A general image of a pay and display car park at a hospital
(Image: Peter Harbour – Hull Live)

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have been absolutely clear hospitals should not be charging staff for parking during the pandemic and we have given them funding to cover the cost of suspending parking charges.

“We are also supporting hospitals to provide free parking to thousands more NHS patients and visitors, including disabled people, frequent outpatient attenders, parents of children staying overnight and staff working night shifts.”

However, it is not clear if this funding covers just the costs or all loss of income.

With surpluses often reinvested in patient care, NHS Providers, a membership organisation for NHS trusts, said it is important trusts don’t end up losing out.

In March 2017, the Government estimated it “would result in £200m per year being taken from clinical care budgets to make up the shortfall” if parking charges were abolished in England.

However, that cost would be smaller if parking charges were not abolished for all groups.

NHS Providers said allowing certain groups to park for free would be welcomed, and supported providing free car parking to staff.

However, the organisation believes that should this measure remain in place, sufficient funding must be provided to trusts to avoid any resources being taken from frontline services.

It said: “Car parks are expensive to run and maintain. Revenue generated is used to maintain facilities to ensure they are safe for patients and staff. Any extra revenue is reinvested in care for patients.

“Abolishing car parking charges entirely would cost around £200m, meaning that funding would need to be found elsewhere to pay for this.

“Any changes should not come at the expense of frontline NHS services, and should not be funded by trusts themselves. In addition, any loss of income as a result of exemptions should be offset in full by funding from the Government.”

Across England, the cost of parking services fell from £66.6mn to £61.8m, according to the figures from NHS Digital.

However, trusts saw an income of just £52.4m.

While costs were funded by the Government, in 2019/20, hospital trusts had an income of £285.5m, leaving them potentially with £219.0m after costs – a huge fall in net income.

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Chronicle Live – Sunderland