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Battle to halt return of hospital car park fees across Northern Ireland

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Burden: Fra McCann

Burden: Fra McCann

Burden: Fra McCann

Pressure is mounting from politicians and a health union to halt the reintroduction of hospital car parking charges across Northern Ireland.

In March, Health Minister Robin Swann announced car parking charges incurred for all staff within the health and social care sector would be reimbursed for a period of three months - from April 1 to June 30 - to acknowledge the hard work and the long and often anti-social hours they were working during an unprecedented global pandemic.

West Belfast MLA Fra McCann called for it to continue after it emerged that the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has written to hospital workers informing them of the reintroduction of charges.

"Health care workers having to pay hospital car parking charges is essentially a cut to their pay," Mr McCann said.

"The suspension of parking charges during the pandemic was an important recognition of the pressures put on health workers and their commitment to their work.

"Health care staff have been dealing with huge pressures in the system for years even prior to Covid-19 and they should not have to face what are sometimes considerable daily parking charges just to provide vital frontline services to the public.

"Parking charges not only impact our frontline workers, but also place a considerable burden on the most vulnerable such as those with serious health conditions, illnesses and their carers for who frequently attend hospital for their treatments.

"In particular, these charges place an unfair burden on patients and health workers from rural areas who live considerable distances from hospitals and who have very limited, or no option, to use public transport to get their work."

Mr McCann said he planned to bring forward legislation to abolish hospital car parking charges in Northern Ireland.

Last night Royal College of Nursing chief Pat Cullen described the car park charging plan as "disgraceful".

"The RCN is completely opposed to the re-imposition of car parking charges for nurses and other health and social care staff," she said.

"These charges were, quite rightly, waived a few short months ago.

"It is disgraceful that trusts are reintroducing what is nothing more than a tax on going to work for staff who have been risking their lives in the service of others over the last few months.

"We urge the Department of Health to reverse this decision and demonstrate an appropriate commitment to supporting those who have given so much to the people of NI".

A spokesperson for the Belfast Health and Social Trust said decisions about car parking charges at hospitals were taken by Stormont's Department of Health.

In a statement, the Department of Health said: "The policy on car parking is to recover the cost of providing car parks across the health estate.

"Charging for car parking on hospital sites where space is limited is an effective mechanism in encouraging turnover in the use of spaces, which helps to ensure that spaces are available for patients and visitors.

"In addition, if charging were to stop, the revenue raised to meet the cost of the provision and maintenance of car parking would similarly cease, ultimately reducing the amount of money available to fund patient care."

Belfast Telegraph