An NHS trust's decision to bring back hospital staff parking charges has been criticised by unions.

The County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust is to end the free parking for staff next month.

The parking charges - branded a "stealth tax" - were temporarily suspended in March 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Some NHS trusts brought back the staff charges in April this year, when they were reintroduced nationally as the government ended its support for free parking.

Read more: NHS Foundation Trusts that aren't reintroducing parking charges for staff

The County Durham and Darlington trust held off at that point and staff parking remained free, though visitors had to pay from March.

But the staff charges will return on October 1.

A spokesperson for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Nationally, the NHS announced that hospital car park charges for staff should be reintroduced from April 1, 2022, having been paused for both staff and visitors since the early part of the pandemic.

"As a trust, we have taken the time to review all of our options acknowledging that this is a subject which impacts on so many; we are committed to re-introducing car parking charges in a way that causes the least disruption.

"In line with regional trusts it has been agreed that staff car parking charges will recommence from October 1, 2022 at the same rate as 2019/2020. Visitor parking charges recommenced in March 2022.”

Read more: How much NHS Trusts made from hospital car park charges

Alex Wilson, national officer for Yorkshire and North East England for hospital doctors' union the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, said: “The reintroduction of hospital parking charges for staff imposes a stealth tax on hard-working NHS employees just for turning up for their shift.

"It comes at a time when heating and eating are a financial challenge for many hospital workers and follows years of below-inflation pay awards.

"This additional pressure will fall on people who are already suffering burnout and exhaustion due to their dedication throughout the many challenges which the NHS has faced and continues to face.

“There is a responsibility for employers to ensure the safety of their employees, so when they must pay to park in a safe place when attending anti-social shifts this shows the true value placed on NHS staff.

“This decision makes a mockery of the daily applause and supposed appreciation of hardworking NHS staff who have put themselves in harm’s way for the good of the country.”

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UNISON northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “With the cost of petrol, food and energy all going through the roof and a government committed to keeping NHS wages down, the last thing health workers need is a new charge on coming to work.

“Those already on the brink of leaving the NHS may well see this as the final straw and head for the exit, just as the service needs experienced staff the most. 

"The continuation of free parking and an inflation-busting pay rise is vital to stop more staff leaving NHS jobs this year.

“The trust should reconsider these parking charges. It’s not right to charge healthcare staff for coming to work.”

North East junior doctor committee chair Dr Milo Kostusiak, from the British Medical Association, said: “Given the increasingly challenging conditions that doctors and healthcare staff are being expected to work in as the crisis facing the NHS grows, it is hugely disappointing that these trusts are deciding to reintroduce car parking charges for staff.

"With the rising cost of living a worrying financial burden to NHS staff, as we head into another difficult winter for the health service, this has come at a time when they can least afford it.

"Doctors are already fed up with being undervalued having suffered years of pay cuts so asking them to now pay for parking, though insignificant as it may seem, is yet another blow to their morale.

"The BMA believes that trusts should provide free parking for staff and that the NHS must be adequately funded so trusts don’t have to resort to charging staff for parking for income.

"The government should be giving doctors and NHS staff the fair pay increase they deserve, not adding to their bills.”

The Northern Echo: Cllr Kevin Nicholson. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Kevin Nicholson. Picture: Northern Echo.

Councillor Kevin Nicholson, Darlington Borough Council's cabinet member for health and housing, suggest trust leaders think "more creatively" about how to help staff.

He said: “I know how well the leadership team at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust have supported their employees over the past few years.

“The public rightly finds it difficult to understand that employees of such a valued public service should have to pay to park at their workplace.

“I’m sure that the leadership team, given their extensive experience in managing their local budgets well, can think more creatively about how to support frontline staff during these increasingly challenging times.”

Anthony Robson, managing director for QE Facilities, a subsidiary company of Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Free car parking has been in place at our trust during covid.

"When NHS England reintroduced car parking earlier this year, our Trust’s management team decided to continue to keep car parking charges for staff free, making us one of the trusts in the region that didn’t reintroduce this.

"We have now been instructed by NHS England that we must reintroduce car parking charges, which means we will be reintroducing staff car parking charges from 1 October 2022.”

The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust resumed charging for staff car parking in July, while Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust confirmed it has also reintroduced the charges.

The York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it was not reintroducing charging at this stage.

The Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust's director of Finance Jordan Mckie said: “The trust has not reintroduced car parking fees at present, but continues to review this position.”

A 3% pay rise for NHS staff, recognised for their contribution during the "unprecedented year" of the pandemic, was announced in July.

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