The NHS is run on goodwill, yet unfair car parking charges show a thorough disregard for staff
Given that most hospital staff are required to do shift work, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to have easily accessible parking. Yet for many, being able to park near their place of work comes at a high cost, with figures released earlier this year showing that three out of 10 NHS hospitals charge staff for car parking. According to NHS data, 348 out of 1175 hospitals required staff—including doctors, nurses, and the many other workers who come into hospitals every day to keep the NHS running—to pay for parking facilities. The hospitals with the highest average charge cost £2 per hour, which equates to £80 for a 40 hour working week.
And in news that is sure to make all these workers feel further aggrieved, it was reported last week that the English health service made a profit of £69.5m last year from car parking charges it levied on its own employees.
At a time when staff are facing pay freezes and real pay reductions as a result of inflation, these charges seem demoralising and excessive. As UNISON have pointed out, many healthcare staff are already “struggling to get by on a pay rise well below the cost of living, and these extortionate fees are an extra tax on their wages.” NHS trusts’ typical response that they encourage staff to use forms of transport other than cars unfortunately doesn’t take into account the reality of staff working patterns. In a system where night shifts and unusual hours are commonplace, trains and buses do not always run, and many health workers live in the surrounding rural areas, meaning that this advice is not always practical or even possible.
Even once you’ve paid for a permit, this is no guarantee that you’ll have a parking space when you need it. This can mean that NHS workers have to arrive way in advance of their shift in order to secure a space—potentially turning a 12 hour shift into a 13 hour shift before travel time is even factored in. Nor do permits protect staff from being fined. Yet the balance has previously been stacked in parking operators’ favour when a court ruling deemed a group of NHS workers were liable to pay a car park management company for fines incurred from parking in the visitor car park when there was not enough room in designated staff spaces
Cases like this show that there is no understanding for or concessions to those who are using hospital car parks and why their work commitments might mean that they have to park frequently or for a long time, at anti-social hours, or with sudden urgency. The NHS is run on goodwill, yet practices like this show a thorough disregard for staff and make it easy for employees to feel that this is becoming a one way street.
I understand that car parking at hospitals is in short supply and needs to be regulated in some way, but there should be a more sensible and appropriate method of doing this. Add to this the problem of the postcode lottery created by hospital trusts having such starkly different fees (or not charging at all), and the obstacles parking charges can create for patients too, and it becomes clear that this is a system in need of an overhaul.
There are some key changes that hospitals could introduce. For starters, we should completely do away with having third parties run this service. Next we should look at improving transport links to hospitals, including cycle routes and more regular buses/trains during off peak hours, which may encourage those that live closer to the hospital to opt against driving. For employees who have to commute long distances or who don’t have the option of public transport, a park and ride system from an area where parking can be guaranteed could also be an option.
Hospitals’ current approach to charging for car parking is undermining the morale and financial security of NHS workers. This practice should be banished from hospitals in place of a fairer and more understanding system.
Edward Ridyard is an ST4 in ophthalmology in the North Yorkshire Deanery.
Competing interests: None declared.