Return of Harrogate Hospital parking charges would be 'kick in the teeth' for NHS staff
A union is urging the government to U-turn on its "kick in the teeth" decision to charge NHS workers to park at Harrogate Hospital when the coronavirus crisis eases.
The government promised at the start of the outbreak that it would cover the costs of hospital car parking for health workers "going above and beyond every day", but ministers have now said the scheme cannot continue indefinitely.
It has sparked fury amongst local politicians and union officials who say the underpaid workers need less praise and more financial support from the government.
Ben Kirkham, regional organiser for the GMB union, has slammed the move.
He said asking NHS workers to once again spend a large chunk of their pay packets on parking charges will add "insult to injury".
"It has always been an outrageous practice with the Tory's underfunding of our NHS which resulted in hospitals and private companies charging sky-high parking charges", Mr Kirkham said.
"For some nurses, especially those who work nights, public transport isn’t an option. So they are going to work by car rather than public transport
"A £1,300-a-year charge for full-time staff, including some nurses, using off-site commercial parking is not acceptable. Even its lowest-paid workers, such as secretaries, porters and cleaners, are having to fork out over a grand a year.
"Those lucky enough to find one of the few parking spots are charged up to £6.20 a day.
"The last thing they need is a further kick in the teeth having to fork out hundreds of pounds to park at work when they've been feeling the pay pinch for years."
A spokesman for Harrogate Hospital said parking remains free for now but added any future decisions will be made at a national level by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
It comes after earlier this month health minister Edward Argar claimed free NHS parking couldn't carry on forever and said officials were looking at how long it would "need" to go on.
GMB's Ben Kirkham said Harrogate Hospital is "run on the goodwill of staff", but added the government's parking charges plans shows "the feeling doesn’t go both ways".
"It’s common sense and decency that the NHS and social care staff should get free car parking the pandemic is far from over and the public will be disgusted to know our frontline heroes are being charged extortionate fees as they put their lives at risk to keep us all safe", he said.
Mr Kirkham has also criticised the government for not doing enough to protect health workers at the peak of the pandemic.
"The government has failed at all levels during the covid-19 crisis; with guidance, with pay, with PPE, with testing", he said.
"One thing they can do is secure free parking for health and social care workers – not just now, but forever."
The Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement: “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.”
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter