Free hospital parking for NHS staff will end in all but "certain circumstances" once the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease, the Government has said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on March 25 the Government would cover the costs of car parking for NHS staff who he said were "going above and beyond every day" at hospitals in England.
But the Department of Health has said the free parking will continue only for "key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances" as the pandemic eases, although no further timeline has been given.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said to reintroduce 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 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," he added.
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.”
In response to another question from Labour’s Zarah Sultana, also answered on Friday, Mr Argar said the Government was "considering how long free parking for National Health Service staff will need to continue, recognising that this has only been made possible by external support from local authorities and independent sector providers".
He added: "The Government’s focus remains on ensuring the commitment of free parking for the groups identified in their announcement of 27 December 2019 is implemented once the pandemic abates."
Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran said NHS workers must not be "saddled with extortionate parking charges" and said removing charges for staff had been "the right move".
She said: "Our healthcare workers deserved to have certainty that they could get to work without extra charges or hassle.
"Now the Government must provide clarity and ensure our workers are not saddled with extortionate parking charges.
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 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."
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