James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
Hospital in Boris Johnson's constituency re-introduces NHS staff parking charges
10 July 2020, 08:55
Several London hospitals, including one in Boris Johnson’s own constituency, have reintroduced car parking charges for NHS staff, in spite of government assurances that free parking would remain available during the pandemic, LBC can reveal.
The Department of Health caused controversy just this week by admitting that the charges, which were suspended in March due to coronavirus “cannot continue indefinitely” and that it would reinstate them when the pandemic was over.
But LBC has learned that Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation trust, which runs the Hillingdon Hospital in Uxbridge, Boris Johnson’s constituency, and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust have each reinstated the charges.
At the former trust, staff have been paying charges from the 1st of July, so even before the government announced they would eventually have to end.
And it has been done in spite of opposition from MPs and unions about whether it should happen at all.
Yesterday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told LBC that it was “right” that the free parking should end, but he also said: “The Health Secretary at the beginning of this crisis, because of the exceptional circumstances put in place some temporary easements for NHS staff and those are in place for the duration of the pandemic and I don’t believe there has been any change to any of those policies.”
LBC approached each of the trusts to ask why they had chosen to reintroduce charges even before the Government signalled it would be necessary.
Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Trust told us the free parking was “only ever intended to be a temporary benefit to support staff at the height of the pandemic.
"As agreed previously, the support package was reviewed in June and it was agreed to phase out free on-site parking for staff, to ensure we have enough capacity for our patients”
Similarly, Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust told us that it was a question of capacity in their car parks: "Over the last month, the number of patients receiving treatment for Covid in our hospitals has dropped significantly, enabling us to restart other vital health services for patients.
"This means that we are allowing more visitors than previously, and as we only have limited car parking facilities, we have had to take steps to enable patients to park at our hospitals when coming in for treatment.
"Unfortunately, this has meant that we can no longer offer staff free parking, but public transport has resumed a full service.”
Based on their websites, it appears charges for the public at these trusts are between £1.50 and £2 an hour, which is far from the most expensive.
Some hospitals charge as much as £3.50 an hour in England and Northern Ireland. In Scotland and Wales, most hospitals do not charge for parking.
More than a dozen MPs meanwhile have signed a Labour motion in the House of Commons demanding that the Government “make parking free at NHS hospitals for NHS staff, patients and visitors”, which highlights the difficulty the government will have in unwinding some of the more popular policies that were introduced during the pandemic.
The Department for Health and Social Care doesn’t comment on the decisions made by individual trusts, but said in a statement: “We have been clear that during the pandemic free hospital parking will be available for NHS and care staff, and this remains the case.
"From January next year free parking will also become mandatory for disabled people, frequent outpatient attenders, parents of children staying overnight and staff working night shifts.
"Thousands of NHS patients, staff and visitors are eligible for free hospital car parking under these rules.”