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Free hospital parking for NHS staff in England will end once the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease, the government has announced.
Doctors, nurses, carers and support staff have been allowed to park at their workplace for free since March, after more than 400,000 people signed a petition calling for the government to cover parking costs.
However the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said free parking will continue only for “key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances” as the pandemic eases.
Health minister Edward Argar said last week the support to make free parking available “cannot continue indefinitely”, adding the government was looking into how long the system would “need” to go on.
In response to a written question from Labour MP Rachael Maskell, he said: “The provision of free parking for National Health Service staff by NHS Trusts has not ended and nothing has changed since the announcement on March 25.
“However, free parking for staff has only been made possible by support from local authorities and independent providers and this support cannot continue indefinitely.”
He said the government wanted to fulfill its election manifesto promise to offer free hospital parking for the disabled, frequent outpatient attendees, parents of sick children who are staying overnight and nightshift workers.
These plans, originally due to start in April, will not come fully into effect until January 2021.
“Implementation of this commitment has been on hold whilst the NHS has been managing the Covid-19 pandemic and devoting its hospital parking capacity to staff and other facilities necessary for managing the pandemic,” he continued.
Responding to a separate question from Labour’s Zarah Sultana, Argar said the government was “considering how long free parking for National Health Service staff will need to continue, recognising that this has only been made possible by external support from local authorities and independent sector providers”.
He added: “The government’s focus remains on ensuring the commitment of free parking for the groups identified in their announcement of December 27 2019 is implemented once the pandemic abates.”
There are no parking fees at hospitals in Wales and most Scottish institutions.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said reintroducing parking charges for medical staff would be “a rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe”.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The BMA has always believed that it is unacceptable for staff who serve in our health service to be required to pay significant amounts of money to park their car in hospital grounds. This is even more salient as the nation recognises the immeasurable contribution of healthcare workers in fighting this pandemic.
“The government’s decision to waive parking charges during Covid-19 was a welcome announcement, but to reinforce them, before we’ve even won the fight against this virus, is a rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We want to make sure NHS staff can travel safely to work during the pandemic, which is why we requested that the NHS make parking free for staff, and that local authorities do the same with their car parks.
“When the pandemic begins to ease, the NHS will continue to provide free hospital car parking to key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances. We will provide further updates on this in due course.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.