• Some areas have introduced local measures but trade union calls for national effort
  • Private firm NCP suspends charges for NHS works during covid-19 outbreak

Trusts have begun scrapping staff car parking charges — and others are being called on to do so — while they tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

Several trusts have said they are scrapping the charges to lift pressures on staff, and incentivise them to drive rather than use public transport.

Lewisham and Greenwich Trust has introduced free parking for workers, and suspended charges for current permit holders, for the next three months. Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust has also frozen its fees until the end of June.

South Tees Hospitals Foundation Trust this week announced staff parking charges were suspended, backdated to 1 March.

Trade unions Unite and Unison are among those calling for the fees ditched to be ditched by all trusts, under a national approach.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite’s national officer for health, said: “NHS staff don’t need the additional worry of parking, especially when there are restrictions on public transport and [when] it is safer in these times to drive to work than risk infection on trains and buses.

“Many NHS staff are not well paid, and the fact that NHS trusts in England are charging them [between] £50 to £200 a month to park in normal times is wrong. In this exceptional period of national emergency, it is doubly so.”

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton told HSJ that trusts should now “seize the moment” and waive the charges so that health and care workers can park on their premises for free, adding: “The sight of key workers being forced to cram onto buses and trains risks spreading the virus and overwhelming the NHS.

“Wherever possible too, local businesses closed because of the pandemic are being urged to do their bit and offer up their now empty car parks for key workers to use for free.”

From April, all trusts will be expected to provide free parking to “frequent hospital visitors”, such as those with regular outpatient appointments to manage long-term conditions, as well as parents staying with children overnight and staff working night shifts.

However, they will still be able to charge their other workers as they choose. Rates charged vary between providers, and some areas have introduced local discounts, but there are now calls for a national approach.

Unite says it has urged shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth to address the issue with his counterpart Matt Hancock in Parliament, while Unison has called on businesses, including retail outlets, bars and gyms, to scrap car parking fees for health and care workers as well.

It comes as an online petition calling for staff car parking charges to be “abolished” has gained nearly 6,000 signatures at time of publication.

Some trusts across the country have already made local decisions.

Meanwhile, private parking firm NCP has announced car parking across its 150 UK sites will be free to all NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have been approached for comment.