East Lancashire Hospitals raised millions of pounds from parking charges last year
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Trade union GMB said it is "sickening" that nurses, midwives and cleaners in many trusts across the country have had to shell out money to park at their place of work, as it called on ministers to scrap parking charges for workers altogether.
NHS Digital data shows East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust made around £2.9 million through parking charges and penalty fines in the year to March 2020.
Of that, £2.1 million was paid by patients and visitors, while £788,054 was raked in through charging staff to park.
Figures reveal that patients and visitors paid an average hourly rate of 63p at the most expensive of the Trust's five sites, while staff dug out 4p per hour at the priciest spot.
Tony McDonald, Executive Director of Integrated Care, Partnerships and Resilience for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We were very pleased to provide free car parking to staff, visitors, and patients during the majority of 2020. In fact, ELHT took the decision to suspend all parking charges prior to the March lockdown at the start of the pandemic.
“However, as we moved into the winter months, and with our services re-opening, our hospital sites are busier than ever; all Trusts across Lancashire and South Cumbria took the difficult decision to reinstate car parking charges for patients and visitors to ensure fairness for patients accessing treatment from multiple hospital sites.
“Parking for our staff currently remains free of charge during this pandemic across all of our sites, including Burnley General Teaching Hospital."
Across England, NHS trusts raised £289 million from parking charges – nearly a third of which came from staff parking, generating £90 million over the year.
The figures represent the gross income earned by the NHS and do not take into account its own costs for providing car parking.
Workers are losing £2 or more from their pay packet every hour at the most expensive car parks nationally, the data shows.
Trade union GMB said charging NHS staff to park at work is "disgraceful".
Rachel Harrison, the union's national officer, said: "Government cuts have inflicted a heavy toll on the NHS, but trusts should not be clawing that cash back by charging the people we rely on to keep us alive."
The Government announced last year that it would cover the costs of providing free car parking to NHS staff working in hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. However, it said the scheme would end in all but "certain circumstances" as the pandemic eased over the summer.
Ms Harrison added that it was "sickening" to see workers forced to shell out for parking again as some trusts reintroduced charges for staff.
“Ministers must now support our healthcare heroes by enforcing free hospital staff parking and scrapping plans to reintroduce charges once the pandemic ends," she added.
Patients' rights campaigners the Patients Association said while billing people to park at NHS car parks is a "charge on people who are unwell," it provides much-needed income for trusts at a time when their finances are under pressure.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "In March, the Government committed to making hospital car parking free for NHS staff for the duration of the pandemic and is providing additional money to NHS trusts to cover the cost of implementing this.
"Any surplus income generated from hospital car parks not used to fund the provision of car parking, such as security and maintenance, must be reinvested into frontline care."
But greater clarity on the overall funding pot for free staff parking is needed, according to NHS Providers, which represents trust leaders.
In a briefing to MPs, the organisation said it is "vital" that trusts receive enough funding to pay for the measure to enable them to maintain services and put money into frontline services.
It added that some trusts had already reinstated charges for workers to ensure there were enough spaces for staff and patients as people avoid public transport during the pandemic.