Pressure from politicians and a health union is mounting to stop the reintroduction of hospital parking fees across Northern Ireland.
In March, Health Minister Robin Swann announced that parking costs for all personnel in the health and social care sector would be reimbursed for a period of three months – from April 1 to June 30 – for the hard work and long and often anti -social hours they worked during an unprecedented global pandemic.
West Belfast MLA Fra McCann called for continuation after it was revealed that the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has informed hospital staff about the reintroduction of the charge.
“Healthcare providers who have to pay hospital parking fees are essentially a cut in their salary,” said McCann.
“The suspension of parking fees during the pandemic was an important acknowledgment of the pressure health workers exert and their commitment to their work.
“Healthcare personnel had been under tremendous pressure in the system years before Covid-19 and they would not have to face the sometimes significant daily parking fees just to provide essential frontline services to the public.
“Parking costs not only impact our frontline workers, but also place a significant burden on the most vulnerable, such as those with serious health problems, illnesses and their caregivers, who often go to the hospital for their treatments.
“These charges in particular impose an unfair burden on patients and health workers from rural areas who live far away from hospitals and who have very limited or no ability to use public transport to do their jobs.”
Mr McCann said he intended to introduce legislation to abolish hospital parking fees in Northern Ireland.
Last night, Royal College of Nursing chief Pat Cullen described the parking lot charging plan as “disgraceful.”
“The RCN is completely opposed to the re-imposition of parking fees for nurses and other health and social workers,” she said.
“These charges were rightly waived several months ago.
“It is a shame that confidence is reintroducing a tax that is nothing more than a work tax for staff who have put their lives on the line for others in recent months.
“We urge the Department of Health to reverse this decision and show an appropriate commitment to support those who have given so much to the people of NI”
A spokesperson for the Belfast Health and Social Trust said that decisions about hospital parking costs were made by Stormont’s Department of Health.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said, “The policy for parking cars is to recoup the costs of parking on the entire health site.
“Charging for parking spaces at hospital sites where space is limited is an effective mechanism to drive sales of space utilization, ensuring that space is available to patients and visitors.
In addition, if charging were to stop, revenues collected to meet the cost of providing and maintaining parking spaces would also cease, ultimately reducing the amount of money available to fund patient care . “