The introduction of a new car parking charge regime by a trust in Tyneside is indicative of a national problem for nursing staff, a union has claimed.
South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust introduced charges of £1.20 an hour or £12 a month from 1 July.
Unite said this affected more than 60 community staff, including health visitors, school nurses and community matrons, who use their cars to visit clients and patients as part of their daily work.
It has branded the new charges as “extortionate” and said it highlighted a problem across England.
“There would be an outcry if teachers had to pay to park at school or police officers at police stations”
Unite said that the South Tyneside case was not unique and that many trusts imposed car parking charges on their staff, whether they were essential car users or not.
It wants England to fall in line with Scotland and Wales, where car parking charges are not levied on NHS staff.
Unite regional officer Martin Wright said: “What the South Tyneside management is doing is immoral – the charges are extortionate.
“It is recycling NHS money from staff to boost the trust’s income – helping to offset deficits and causing additional financial burdens on staff already hit by reduced mileage payments, increased pension and national insurance contributions and with many staff receiving no pay increase this year,” he said.
“There are very few other public servants who have to pay for the privilege of parking at work, but definitely even fewer who are essential car users,” he added.
“There would be an outcry if teachers had to pay to park at school or police officers at police stations.”
Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown added: “Unfortunately, the South Tyneside case is not uncommon as many acute trusts in England charge their employees for parking, usually based on a sliding scale of what they earn.”
The South Tyneside trust provides a range of NHS services across Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
Steve Jamieson, trust director of corporate services, said: “A parking system was introduced in July at our Clarendon building in Hebburn, which is a base for more than 200 clinical and administrative staff, to bring it in line with our other sites, including South Tyneside District Hospital, where staff have paid to park for many years.
“A monthly staff permit costs only £11.25, which is the cheapest of any NHS organisation in the North East, and the money is used to help maintain our grounds for the benefit of everyone – patients, visitors and staff,” he said.
“We agreed, initially, that no charges would be issued at Clarendon while we monitored the length of time cars were being parked there, with a view to possibly introducing a reduced cost permit if staff were only using it for a very short time each day, and we will shortly be reviewing that information,” he added.
In July, health secretary Jeremy Hunt acknowledged that parking costs at some hospitals “are just too high”, during a parliamentary debate.
The issue was raised in the Commons by Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, who said nurses and patients faced “ever-increasing” charges.
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.