Several systems and trusts have decided to extend their free parking offer for staff despite central government funding for the policy coming to an end this month.
At the start of the pandemic, the government agreed to fund free car parking for staff at every NHS trust. However, Sajid Javid announced last week the arrangements would end as part of wider “living with covid” measures.
But multiple trusts and integrated care systems have chosen to continue funding free parking themselves, HSJ has learned.
A senior source in the Black Country and West Birmingham integrated care system told HSJ that trusts have agreed to extend free parking for at least a three-month period, although this has yet to be officially announced.
Kevin McGee, lead provider CEO in the Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS, said all trusts in the system would be keeping free parking until July at least.
He said: “This will allow us time over the next three months to run a consultation to develop a single parking fee structure to be adopted across the system so that charges are as transparent and equitable as they can be on our hospital sites.”
The two ICSs cover more than 10 NHS trusts.
Meanwhile, Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust told HSJ it has “no immediate plans” to reintroduce fees. Chief finance officer Jason Dorsett said the trust was looking to support staff financially over the coming months, including help with public transport costs.
Milton Keynes University Hospital FT has also said it would continue to offer free parking for staff at all times and had done so since 2019.
The trusts and systems HSJ spoke to declined to say how much maintaining free parking would cost, although one source said their ICS had been receiving £500,000 from the government to cover the costs for every six-month period.
Draft financial guidance for 2022-23, seen by HSJ, suggests trusts should replace lost central funding with income from charging mechanisms or unspecified “further financial support” which should not contribute to a gap in financial plans. One trust CEO said they were worried about being reprimanded for missing their financial targets if they decided to keep providing free parking.
Free parking for staff on night shifts, as well as frequent outpatient attenders, parents of sick children staying overnight, and disabled people, as was promised pre-pandemic, all remain in place.
Unison’s deputy head of health, Helga Pile, said: “Charging staff and patients to visit shouldn’t be a cash cow for hospitals. Adding extra costs for the health workforce in a cost-of-living crisis is wrong, particularly when there’s no sign of their already overdue pay rise.
“Some trusts see softening the blow as an important part of retaining hard-pressed staff, but there’s uncertainty around how long that will last. It’s the government that should be finding the money to extend free parking to all staff for the long-term.”