Analysis

Nurses count cost of car parking charges

NHS car parking costs hit the headlines again this month, as figures revealed one third of trusts in England increased their charges in the past year 

NHS car parking charges hit the headlines again this month as figures revealed a third of trusts in England have increased their charges in the past year.


Staff at many hospitals in England have to pay for parking. Picture: Neil O'Connor 

Data from NHS Digital, which was analysed by the Press Association, showed a 15% average rise in parking charges at trusts in England between 2014-15 and 2015-16. England is the only part of the UK in which hospitals routinely charge patients and visitors for parking, with some trusts offering free parking for the first 30 minutes and others charging £4 for a 1-hour stay.

15%

The average rise in parking charges at trusts in England between 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Source: NHS Digital/Press Association/Scottish government

But the statistics do not highlight the issues faced by some NHS staff in England, who have to pay to park at their workplace and face fines if they are unable to renew their ticket if, for example, their shift overruns.

RCN senior employment relations adviser Gerry O’Dwyer says: ‘The unregulated nature of car parking charges is a problem. Charges for staff need to be at a level that doesn’t demotivate people working in these organisations. The charges should reflect the difficulties people have in getting to and from work and working a range of shifts.’

Patients free 

At Clatterbridge Cancer Care Centre NHS Foundation Trust, patients can park for free, but staff have to pay. Bands 1-4 pay £8 per month, bands 5-7 £13, bands 8+ and non-consultant medical staff pay £18 per month and executive directors and consultants £30 per month.

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust charges £2 per day for visitors and recently undertook a consultation with staff about car parking charges.

A spokesperson for the trust says the survey shows a clear majority of staff favour the option of charging based on salary banding, with charges varying between £4.55 and £30 per month depending on banding and hours worked. The spokesperson says: ‘All income generated through parking covers the costs to run and maintain the car park. In addition to parking rates, the trust is also exploring the use of advertising to further contribute to parking maintenance costs.’

Secure facilities

7

The number of NHS trusts that earned more than £3 million in 2014/15 from car parking charges. 

Source: NHS Digital/Press Association/Scottish government

York Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust revealed its monthly salary deduction for general staff car parking is £36, with a £2 cost for daily pay and display. A spokesperson says parking charges are ‘always competitively priced but set in consideration of the need to offer secure and adequate parking facilities and security for staff on all of our sites’.

Hospital car parking charges were abolished in all but a few organisations in Wales and Scotland in 2008. Scotland’s health secretary Shona Robison says the move has saved the country’s patients, visitors and staff about £29 million. 

Car parking is free in some hospitals in Northern Ireland, but Unison representative Jill Weir believes it is lagging behind in terms of free parking for healthcare staff. At the start of this month, staff and union members protested outside South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, over a lack of car parking spaces and new measures including potential parking fines from an external company. 

Nowhere to park 

Ms Weir says both issues were having a damaging effect on staff: ‘We have more than 2,000 members of staff who are at the organisation at different times over a 24-hour period. Those with care responsibilities who might come in a bit later may not find a space, or those who need to go out for their jobs during the day come back to find they don’t have anywhere to park. It’s just not right.’

A spokesperson for the hospital’s Western Health and Social Care Trust says recent changes have resulted in a ‘significant and positive impact’, including appropriate use of disabled bays, drop-off and collection areas and blue light routes remaining clear.

‘The Western Trust provides a Total of 978 spaces on South West Acute Hospital site, 832 free and 146 paid spaces,’ the spokesperson says. ‘No other trust offers site users this level of free access and we remain the cheapest trust in terms of car parking hourly rate charged. We will continue to provide some internal solutions for staff and ask all site users to allow appropriate time to reach their final destination.’

The British Parking Association (BPA) launched Parking in Professionalism Accreditation (PiPA) last year to recognise ‘high standards’ in parking. It is supported by the Department of Health (DH) and is available for NHS organisations to work towards.

Accreditation

£29 million

The amount saved by patients, visitors and staff in Scotland after car parking charges at hospitals were abolished in 2008.

Source: NHS Digital/Press Association/Scottish government

A BPA spokesperson said that part of the criteria when assessing for a PiPA includes employee wellbeing and social responsibility. BPA believes the accreditation system will help improve reputations of NHS trusts and adverse media publicity around car parking charges. The BPA does not believe that healthcare budgets should be used for those who choose to drive to hospital.

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust was awarded the accreditation this year. The trust’s parking system includes a free park and ride scheme at Scunthorpe hospital, where staff park their cars in the town centre and catch a bus to the hospital.

According to the DH, the majority of NHS hospital sites do not charge for parking. A spokesperson says: ‘We expect all NHS organisations to follow our guidelines on car parking and offer concessions to staff who need them most. This includes disabled staff, shift workers and those who need a car to carry out their jobs.’

‘Public don’t realise staff often pay to park too’

Former healthcare assistant Abigail Smith, of Bury St Edmunds, started a petition 2 years ago for free car parking for NHS staff at all hospitals. The petition to health secretary Jeremy Hunt has gathered 130,000 signatures.

‘I started it because I was working on a ward at the time and one of the issues that a lot of the staff were constantly concerned about was parking,’ she says. ‘They would often go back to their car after a 15-hour shift to find a parking ticket because they hadn’t managed to get back in time.

‘There should be free parking for staff across all NHS organisations. Nurses, doctors and other NHS staff work so hard to make the system function from day to day. I also felt that the public weren’t always aware that staff often have to pay to park too.

‘After I started my petition there was a big banner outside the hospital claiming that car parking fees pay for patient care. It is so unfair to place that sort of a burden on staff, that is the last thing they need to worry about. I had a moped so was able to park in a free space with the bikes but I wanted to help my colleagues to try and make their working days a bit easier.

‘There has been a big reaction on social media to the petition and people are still signing it. I am waiting for the signatures to hit the 200,000 mark so it can have as much weight behind it as possible before I take it to government ministers.’

View the free parking at all hospitals for NHS staff petition here

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