Union calls for permanent free parking for NHS staff

Lewisham University Hospital. Pic: Edward Spratt

A union official has called on Lewisham NHS Trust to make the current free parking offered to key workers permanent after the pandemic.

Helen O’Connor, GMB regional organiser, told Eastlondonlines that the temporary free parking ‘should continue for all NHS staff.’

NHS staff working at Lewisham University Hospital are normally required to pay expensive daily fees. Parking is limited, which O’Connor describes as: “abysmal at the best of times.”

Free and accessible parking is necessary for all NHS staff, and the current system can “inflame people” she said. “It is a demand for NHS staff,” she later added.

Under normal circumstances, Emilie Connolly, 21, a paediatric nurse from Lewisham Hospital, does not qualify for an annual on site permit. Spaces are limited, and despite driving from West Malling, Maidstone, four days a week, she was told she “didn’t live far enough”. The visitor car park is the only other option, which is “£6 per day”, she later added.

Connolly was issued a temporary free parking permit by the hospital, However, it has since expired. She said: “I think there was only a set time limit for the free parking, and now I have to pay again”.

However, a representative for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said in response: “We are not charging staff at the moment.”

As a former nurse of 28 years, O’Connor has experienced severe cutbacks, and in her new role, has been fighting for better working conditions for all NHS staff. This includes ‘a pay rise, more staff and free and better parking’.

Parking prices in Lewisham Hospital, especially for the lowest paid health workers, is “a huge chunk of their salaries,” she later added. “Many are caught in a trap and are driven into poverty.”

“There is a major recruitment crisis. How can we attract people into the NHS? The key thing is, you can have as many beds and expensive wards, but if you don’t have the staff, you’re finished. If you don’t have the cleaners, the porters, the whole system will crumble.”

“Joining a union is key” she said, “and a consciousness from the public as to how vital the NHS and its staff are” is needed.

Lewisham Council has provided more than 3000 temporary permits for key workers for on-street parking during the crisis and until Monday had lifted parking charges for all. “This is extremely important during the COVID-19 outbreak because our key workers need to travel unrestricted or delayed.”

The deadline for temporary parking permits for key workers has been extended until 22 August 2020. Key workers can apply online via Lewisham Council

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