Nurses could be hit with higher car parking charges to pay for government plans to abolish fees for inpatients and their visitors, unions have warned.
Health secretary Andy Burnham announced at last week’s Labour Party conference that car parking costs for inpatients, their families and friends would be phased out over the next three years in English hospitals.
Unite nursing lead officer Barrie Brown told Nursing Times it made sense to scrap fees for inpatients as they were often the sickest, most elderly hospital users.
But he was concerned that trusts would increase levies on staff to pay for the loss of income, especially given the NHS has to save £15-20bn by 2014.
He said: “It would be a pretty easy option for trusts to consider if they felt they needed to maintain income for car parking.”
The decision to exclude staff means that English nurses are still at a disadvantage compared to Scotland and Wales, where staff car parking charges are being phased out.
RCN head of policy Howard Catton said: “On the face of it this is good news for patients and their families, but we need to look at the detail of how it will be funded. Clinical budgets mustn’t be diverted to running car parks.
“Staff also face car parking charges and these should not be increased to compensate for the lack of revenue from patients,” he added.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the issue of staff car parking remained a local matter, which was the government’s previous position on parking charges for patients and staff, prior to Mr Burnham’s announcement.
Nursing Times last year ran a campaign calling for the abolition of parking charges in England – as is already the case in Scotland and Wales.
In its response to a petition supporting the Free Parking – Clamp Down on Charges campaign the government said in July that nurses concerned about the level of car parking charges at their hospital should raise the matter with their trust.
“Hospital staff who are concerned about car parking charges at their hospital may…wish to raise this matter with their employer,” the DH statement said. ‘”We have taken the view in England that patient care, rather than subsidising car parks, should take priority when it comes to NHS resources.”
NHS trusts made around £112m in parking fees last year, up from £103m the year before.