Staff should not have to pay significantly higher hospital car parking costs as a result of scrapping the charges for patients, the government has confirmed.
But a consultation on removing car parking fees for inpatients stops short of banning trusts from compensating for any loss in revenue by raising the fees paid by staff.
The Department of Health document says: “Whilst there is no intention that the provision of free car parking to inpatients would be replicated for staff, we would not expect any significant change in staff charges or availability of staff parking.”
The consultation acknowledges that many NHS employees work shifts and are not always able to use public transport. But it makes it clear that the government believes free car parking will only benefit inpatients and their families, and possibly some outpatients.
Launching the consultation, Mr Burnham said: “I want to see a fairer and more consistent approach to parking across the NHS, which recognises the pressure that patients and their families come under.
“People in hospital are often at a low point in their lives – emotionally and financially – and high parking charges can add to stress or limit visits from family and friends.”
The policy, to be phased in over three years, means that nurses in England will continue to have to pay to park at work, while such charges have been largely abolished for NHS staff in Scotland and Wales. Nursing Times petitioned prime minister Gordon Brown on the issue as part of its 2008 Free Parking – Clamp Down on Charges campaign.
The policy is expected to cost trusts between £110m to £140m a year - money that will have to be raised from existing funds. Unions have previously expressed fears that levies on staff will be increased to make up the shortfall.
More than three quarters (77 per cent) of NHS sites do not charge for car parking but 94 per cent of acute hospitals do charge.
An NHS Confederation report last year warned that poor transport and parking policies can worsen staff experience and stress.