With NHS trusts under immense financial pressure, it is no surprise that their accountants pursue every avenue they can to balance the books and ensure the levels of care provided to patients can be maintained.
However, the news that hard-working NHS staff in England paid their own employers almost £70m last year in parking charges and penalty fines is one that raises difficult questions as to what the acceptable limits of such fundraising are.
Such fees effectively represent an additional tax on workers, particularly those whose shift patterns mean that using public transport to get to the hospitals where they are based is not a viable option. NHS Improvement said income generated was used to pay the costs of providing parking, but admitted “excess funds” are put into clinical services.
While there is a reasonable argument that any new NHS funding should be prioritised for patient care rather than covering car parking costs for workers, the fact hospital parking charges for both visitors and staff have been abolished in Wales and have also largely disappeared in Scotland shows that such fees are not an inevitable necessity for trusts.
A middle ground is surely possible between ensuring charges that do exist are set at a level which means that providing parking space is not an additional financial burden on NHS trusts, but are equally not a shortcut to propping up other budgets. At a time when the NHS is struggling to fill vacancies – an additional 40,000 nurses alone are needed – every effort must be made to make working for the health service as attractive as possible.