A huge amount of support has poured in for parking for NHS staff to made permanently FREE.
The wave of support came as it emerged that NHS workers in Sunderland and South Tyneside paid over £1m a year to park at work last year.
Figures revealed South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s staff had £1.063m taken from their wages to use the trust’s ParkingEye-operated sites.
During the coronavirus crisis, NHS staff have been able to park at Sunderland Royal Hospital and other hospitals across the region without having to pay so that staff could get to work without extra charges or hassle.
But now the Government is set to end the free parking, arguing the coronavirus crisis is easing leaving many people angered by the news.
On July 8, it was reported that the Department of Health and Social Care would only continue free parking for staff in “certain circumstances” as the crisis eases.
Liberal Democrat councillor for Millfield Niall Hodson, who represents the area around Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: “Our NHS staff and social care workers in Sunderland have been putting themselves on the front line every single day to protect us.
“It is absolutely right that they shouldn’t be punished for parking at work, especially when it isn’t as safe as usual for them to be using public transport.
“Even if this Covid-19 crisis was close to being over, scrapping free parking for NHS staff shows that the Government have learned nothing.
“We have been clapping for carers over the past few months – but we must match that with real action to improve things for NHS and care workers.
“That’s why extortionate parking charges for NHS staff should be axed, and why health and social care workers deserve a decent pay rise. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the Government will give them either.”
The North East trust insists it has yet to make a decision over staff charges, however Lady Morgan told the BBC on Wednesday: “We’re all reacting to a decision that’s not even on the table, as far as I’m aware.”
Sunderland Live readers have slammed the move to restart parking payments for hospital staff with some saying they should get a pass which makes them exempt from paying.
Matt Lyons said: “They should all get a pass from the Government which makes them exempt from paying for parking anywhere, that goes for all emergency and hospital staff.”
Lisa Cuthbertson said: “They save our lives and have to pay for doing it how can they one minute be clapping for the NHS and then charge them to park their car where they work, shocking.”
Nicole Wardle said: “Disgraceful insult to expect them to pay especially after this pandemic and their relentless efforts.
“Many of their shift patterns will rule out public transport too meaning they have no choice but to drive in and pay because all the surrounding streets are now permit only.”
However, one reader said hospital staff should pay because they could “park elsewhere or use public transport”.
Rob Horn said: “They have to pay to park at work, so do millions of other people in all walks of life. No one forces them to pay, they could park elsewhere or use public transport.
“Exactly the same as everyone else. Has anyone ever worked in London? Try and drive to work and park there, you’ll need a mortgage.”
The British Medical Association said reintroducing the charges would be “a rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made.”
The parking charges are deducted directly from worker’s wages.
Figures gathered under the Freedom of Information Act show that At Sunderland Royal – where the ParkingEye camera was cut down earlier this year – staff had £854,940 removed from their pay.
At South Tyneside, £208,995 was deducted according to figures disclosed via the Freedom of Information Act.
At the start of the pandemic, the trust initially announced a three-month freeze on charges.
Steve Jamieson, Director of Estates and Facilities with South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Since April 1 we have provided free car parking for our staff who continue to do a magnificent job in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This arrangement remains in place as we await further guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care on the next steps regarding any reintroduction of staff car parking charges.”
ParkingEye started operating in Sunderland in 2011, before taking over operations in South Tyneside two years later.
According to the request, the trust made just under £2.5m from parking charges last year, the majority of which did not come from staff.