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Mental health nurse leads petition for free staff parking

A nurse fed up with the parking situation at her hospital has launched a petition to make parking free for all NHS staff in England.

Emma Hopwood, a registered mental health nurse at the Royal Oldham Hospital, Greater Manchester, said morale among the nursing workforce in her area had hit “rock bottom” due to financial stress – and that the issue of parking was high up on their list of concerns.

“It feels like an additional tax on staff”

Emma Hopwood

She recently set up an e-petition demanding free parking on hospital grounds for all NHS workers in England, as is the case in Scotland and Wales.

Ms Hopwood, who qualified as a nurse in September but has worked in the NHS for seven years including as a registered nursing associate, said this had been a longstanding problem.

She explained the issue came back to the surface when a temporary pause on paid-for staff parking staff was lifted, having originally been put into place during the Covid-19 emergency period and funded by the government.

“It’s causing a lot of anxiety for staff here, there are a lot of people really upset by it and it’s affecting their mental health,” Ms Hopwood said.

“Especially when we’re not on great wages to start with, it feels like an additional tax on staff. We need to get to work.”

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There are staff-only parking spots available at the hospital, but these are reserved for those with one of a limited number of permits, which are granted via means testing and still cost £596 a year for those on band 5 and above.

With a shortage of street parking in the area due to the local football ground, Ms Hopwood said nurses without a permit, including herself, were left with few options and had received fines for parking in the staffing spaces.

She continued: “There are people considering going to work in private [healthcare], not just because of parking but the way we’re treated in general: £120 to the NMC, tax, pensions – you’re not left with a lot.

“To treat people like this is like another knife in the back.”

Emma Hopwood

Emma Hopwood

Some staff at Ms Hopwood’s hospital have been arriving an hour or more early to try and secure a parking space.

“To get to work an hour early just to park your car then do a 12-hour shift, it’s a lot,” she said, adding that nursing staff, and other NHS workers at the hospital, sometimes “dreaded” going to work because of the parking situation.

Permits at Royal Oldham Hospital, which is part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust, are means tested, with criteria such as distance to the hospital included in the decision.

“You’re not guaranteed to get a permit,” Ms Hopwood said. “For example, if you live closer, you’re expected to get public transport.

“But when you’re working unsociable hours, that is not viable.”

This issue is not unique to Oldham. England’s chief nursing officer (CNO) Dame Ruth May, in 2022, used her national platform to call for free staff parking, in response to the rising cost of living.

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It is also not a new issue. Multiple campaigns for free parking for NHS staff have come and gone over the years, including one in 2008 run by Nursing Times.

“I do feel like it’s something the government needs to step in and have a look at,” Ms Hopwood further said.

“They go on about retaining staff in the NHS. Doing this would be a pay rise, it would take the strain off us.

“If you want to retain staff, you need to shake things up, it’s one way to boost morale.”

Ms Hopwood’s petition, addressed to health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins, had gained more than 11,000 signatures at the time of writing.

She said she had seen comments from nurses and other healthcare staff across the UK joining the call in her petition, including staff from Scotland and Wales where parking is already free.

In response to the petition, a spokesperson for Royal Oldham Hospital said: “We have introduced a staff parking permit system to help manage traffic flow on the hospital sites to provide sufficient access for our patients and colleagues.

“To ensure parking permits are issued in a fair and transparent manner, all applications are reviewed using criteria agreed in consultation with trade unions and colleagues.

“We appreciate how frustrating it can be for those colleagues who have not been issued with a parking permit.

“For those colleagues who do not have a parking permit and face challenges parking, we encourage them to speak with their manager who will support them in finding a solution.

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“We are continuing to review all our staff transport options, including parking, to improve the experience of both our colleagues and patients.”

NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care were also approached for comment.

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