Unite has welcomed the news that York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has announced that it will be suspending car parking charges for NHS staff from Tuesday (March 24) until further notice.
On Monday evening (March 23), the Trust tweeted, “From 1 April payroll deductions for parking will be stopped, and pay and display machines will be switched off this evening. Staff with parking permits can park on any site for free.
“We hope these small gestures will enable to you stay healthy and feel supported during what are challenging and increasingly difficult times. Thank you.”
Unite national officer for Health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe hailed the news.
“York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust should be applauded in leading the way in suspending car parking charges for NHS staff fighting coronavirus – all trusts in England should replicate this action immediately, if they have not already done so,” he said.
The decision by the Trust comes just after Unite on Monday (March 23) demanded that hospitals across England and Scotland suspend parking charges. Northern Ireland suspended car parking charges for NHS staff last week and in Wales there are no car parking charges for NHS staff.
Even though free parking for NHS staff has long been a key demand for Unite, Jarrett-Thorpe explained why this was such a vital issue now.
“NHS staff are already risking their lives round the clock to save those suffering from COVID-19,” he said.
“NHS staff don’t need the additional worry of parking, especially when there are restrictions on public transport and it is safer in these times to drive to work than risk infection on trains and buses.
“Many NHS staff are not well-paid and the fact that NHS trusts in England are charging them £50-£200-a-month to park in normal times is wrong – in this exceptional period of national emergency, it is doubly so.”
In Scotland, Unite also highlighted the issue of car parking charges for NHS staff.
Unite Lead Health Regional Industrial Officer for Scotland, James O’Connell, noted that Unite has discovered NHS facilities across Scotland are still charging NHS staff or making them apply online for parking permits.
“It’s vital that all NHS Scotland workers are given free parking during these difficult days,” he said. “It’s being reported to Unite that free parking is still not happening with private parking firms based at hospitals continuing to charge, while local authorities are also not doing enough to assist through temporary street permits.
“We are also requesting that all permit fees which many NHS staff are often faced with paying are reimbursed to those workers who are providing essential and life-saving services,” he added.
Jarrett-Thorpe noted that Unite alongside other health unions had engaged with the Department of Health and Social Care on the issue of parking charges for NHS staff today (March 24) and that he was hopeful of a positive outcome in the coming days.
“We have had a message that they are listening to our demands on NHS car parking and a number of other issues related to our members and the NHS response to the Covid-19 emergency and the working lives of our members,” he said.
Beyond car parking charges, the Unite health sector has raised a number of other concerns on behalf of its members as they work flat out to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief among these, Jarrett-Thorpe explained, was the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, of which there is now a worrying shortage. The union is now pressing for the health department to identify potential sources of PPE within the UK – for example through the purchase of masks from chemical manufacturing employers – while they wait for supplies from China.
Unite is also calling for good safety practice to be established throughout the NHS, including infection control, daily toolbox talks and briefings at the start of every shift on keeping everyone safe.
The union moreover has called for all NHS and health employers to consistently follow government guidance on the coronavirus epidemic to retain high levels of staff trust and confidence.
“Our health staff are at the very frontlines of the coronavirus epidemic as they save lives and risk their own to do so,” Jarrett-Thorpe said. “NHS employers must be doing all they can to support health workers, who are working under the toughest times for the health service since its inception, and ensure their safety to the fullest extent possible.”