There is something about car parking – or rather, having to pay for the privilege – that is inherently annoying.
I recently had to buy a council parking permit to park in the road where I live, largely because the shared driveway I normally use is not always available. I admit that it vexed me, but not nearly so much as if I also had to pay to park outside the Nursing Times office as well. Fortunately public transport in London is (generally) far more efficient than driving.
However, as the majority of Nursing Times readers will know only too well, many health service staff are forced to drive to their place of work. And for many, this is an expensive necessity.
And as some of you may have noticed over the years, this is an issue that I believe warrants attention. Most recently I spoke on BBC Radio Essex about it earlier this month. But going back a bit further, Nursing Times campaigned on the issue of parking charges in 2008-09. Our Free Parking campaign called on trusts to drop “unfair” charges for staff.
“The UK now has a postcode lottery when it comes to hospital parking”
Since then, due to much campaigning by others and the effect of devolution, most hospital parking is already free to staff in Scotland and Wales. That’s right, the UK now has a postcode lottery when it comes to hospital parking; in some places it is free, in some it is subsidised and in others it’s just plain extortionate.
Extortionate is also how the union Unison described parking fees for NHS staff this week, on revealing findings from a survey of more than 3,500 health workers including nurses, healthcare assistants and NHS students, who have no option but to drive to work.
Healthcare staff were wasting valuable time searching for parking spaces and two-thirds have been fined when trying to park at work, noted the union. It found 63% said they have to pay for parking permits, in some cases costing £100 or more a month, but hardly any – just 8% – have a guaranteed space.
As a result, 54% said they can end up being late for work, with 21% spending up to 30 minutes looking for a space, and some spending an hour a day doing so. In addition, 63% of survey respondents reported having no option but to seek alternative parking elsewhere, and 33% had to pay for this. More than half (58%) said the cost of parking at work had increased in the past two years.
This is a shambolic state of affairs, on which England seems to be going backwards. I make no apology for repeating myself on this – I do not understand why NHS staff have to pay to park at their place of work. No doubt, an army of NHS managers could go through the economics of it.
Parking charges are harsh for patients and their relatives too, especially given the waiting involved in healthcare, but that’s a separate discussion.
“I don’t expect to hear about yet another example of a community nurse being fined for trying to reach a patient”
I want nursing and other NHS staff to be able to focus on their vital role, rather than being concerned about fines after wasting their time looking for somewhere to park or simply how they are going to afford the fees in the first place.
I really don’t want to hear about staff finding themselves in court after making a stand on the issue, as happened in Cardiff last year, or about nurses finding their cars clamped when they need to get home in the middle of the night following a gruelling shift.
Likewise, I don’t expect to hear about yet another example of a community nurse being fined for trying to reach a patient.
NHS staff have enough to deal with without having to worry about parking. More power to the elbow of those who are trying to change this, be it via petitions, surveys or in parliament.
Free parking for NHS staff in England and Northern Ireland now, please.