In the aftermath of Dominic Cummings giving a verbal battering to the Prime Minister and Health Secretary, news emerged from the DHSC that the government plans to end the funding supporting free car parking for NHS staff across England in June.
Officials say this is linked to their roadmap for ending lockdown but the move was universally condemned by NHS employers and unions. They were united in saying firstly, it is happening too early with some regions still seeing high levels of Covid patients, and secondly, it is a financial kick in the teeth for staff when we still do not know what the English NHS pay offer will be.
Although this only directly impacts off-site parking subsidies, funding to NHS trusts to support free on-site parking is also only in place for the “duration of the pandemic”. Last Autumn a number of trusts indicated a plan to not only re-introduce fees but to increase them as we emerged from that lockdown and the SoR anticipates all free parking is under threat.
SoR Director of Industrial Strategy and Member Relations Dean Rogers emphasised both points: 'Free parking has been a welcomed financial relief for thousands of members during the pandemic – a small but valued recognition. However, it wasn’t born out of charity and kindness but necessity, to make sure staff could safely get to work minimising the risks of using public transport.
'With the latest variations of Covid-19 still gripping many areas of the country lifting these precautions is premature, Matt Hancock should explain to staff having to travel across Manchester and London to hospitals in places like Bolton and Hounslow why it's now suddenly fine to go on public transport, rather than the security of their own cars.'
Dean added: 'On top of the health and safety risk this is also a blow for staff finances. We think the median cost of parking is about £30 a month across English trusts. That’s £360 a year. In some trusts we know it is more. We also know some trusts and local councils plan to put the costs up to recover lost income from the pandemic.
'So it’s not hard to do the maths. You’d need to be earning more than £36,000 a year (or roughly be at least at the top of Band 6) for the government’s proposed 1% pay rise to cover the cost of re-introducing car parking fees.
'That’s the message they are sending NHS staff. As we emerge from the lockdown with recruitment and retention of NHS professionals universally recognised as a critical national priority, our leaders think it’s time to cut take home pay by re-introducing a tax on safe travel. They risk paying a very high price for this and unions are united in making sure they’re held to account.'