Nicky Morgan has claimed there is “no foundation” in reports the government will make NHS workers pay for parking again once the pandemic eases – despite a minister confirming the move in a parliamentary statement.
The remarks from the Conservative peer follows anger directed at the government, with the British Medical Association describing the reports as a “rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made”.
Speaking to Sky News, Baroness Morgan, a former cabinet minister, said the decision to reintroduce parking fees at a future date was “not a decision she is involved with”.
“It does seem very strange given as you say given how hard our NHS have worked over the last few months, that this decision has been taken,” she added.
But appearing in a separate interview moments later, the Conservative peer struck a different tone, telling LBC radio: “Well my understanding, and I checked this morning because you’re not the first person to ask about this strangely enough, is that there is no foundation in this story.
“The government asked the NHS trusts to lift the parking charges because our health workers and care workers have done such an amazing job in looking after those of us who have been sick and ill. Nothing has changed in relation to that.”
Shortly after the coronavirus lockdown was announced in March, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said the government would cover the cost of car parking for NHS staff who he said were “going above and beyond every day” at hospitals in England.
In a statement to parliament on Friday, reported by the i newspaper, health minister Edward Argar confirmed that while the measure has not ended, it will not “continue indefinitely” and has “only been made possible by support from local authorities and independent providers”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health added: "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."
Mr Argar added that the government remained committed to free hospital to parking for those in “greatest need, the disabled, frequent outpatient attendees, parents who have sick children that are staying overnight in hospital and staff working nightshifts”.
“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 added.
Responding to the reports, Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, said: “Removing parking charges for staff at the outset of Covid-19 was the right move. Our healthcare workers deserved to have certainty that they could get to work without extra charges or hassle.
"Now the Government must provide clarity and ensure our workers are not saddled with extortionate parking charges. We also need to see more efforts to promote green transport options for our healthcare workers."