THE government has confirmed it will not continue free parking for NHS staff at hospitals across England as the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease.

On March 25, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the government would cover the costs of car parking for all NHS hospital staff in England.

At the time he said NHS staff were "going above and beyond every day" at hospitals in England.

A petition was also been set up by an NHS GP calling for free hospital parking for staff which received more than 400,000 signatures online.

But confirming that free parking will end, the Department of Health said it would only continue for "key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances."

For the past three months, the government has been providing the 'financial backing' of free staff parking to NHS Trusts across the North-East.

But the British Medical Association said the reintroduction of charges while the virus is still being fought would be "a rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe".

Last week, health minister Edward Argar said the support to make free parking available "cannot continue indefinitely" and added that the Government was looking at how long it would "need" to go on.

Responding on Friday to a written question from Labour's 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 25 March.

"However, free parking for staff has only been made possible by support from local authorities and independent providers and this support cannot continue indefinitely."

Mr Argar said the Government wanted to be able to make good on its promise of free hospital parking for the disabled, frequent outpatient attendees, parents of sick children who are staying overnight and nightshift workers.

He said: "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."

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, 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 spokeswoman for the Department of Health 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."