More than 50 workers came together today to rally against the reintroduction of staff car parking charges at West Suffolk Hospital. 

Trade union Unison arranged the protest, which took place at midday at the Hardwick Heath site in Bury St Edmunds, following the trust’s decision to reinstate the charges which were removed during the Covid pandemic.

A shuttle bus will be provided by the trust from a number of off-site car parks, but the union has raised concerns that these will not be available to staff working long shifts outside of the service hours.

East Anglian Daily Times: More than 50 people turned up at the rally on Hardwick HeathMore than 50 people turned up at the rally on Hardwick Heath (Image: Unison)

Paul Pearson, staff side lead for West Suffolk Hospital and Unison branch secretary, said the reintroduction, which is planned for July 1, would impact the most vulnerable staff members who are already struggling in the cost of living crisis. 

"There are staff that can't park anywhere else because they work 12-hour shifts or they start at one o'clock and finish at 10 o'clock," he said. 

"It really affects our members' wellbeing in terms of their working life but also the service they provide the patients."

East Anglian Daily Times: Over 1,500 people signed the petition against the chargesOver 1,500 people signed the petition against the charges (Image: Unison)

"They're already working short-staffed all the time and this is not going to help with recruitment at all and in terms of retention it's going to have an impact there as well. It seems very poorly timed and cruel, really," he added.

He said the parking charges, which are coming in just as a five per cent pay rise has been agreed for nursing staff, should be implemented in a tiered system instead of a flat rate so that lower-paid staff members pay less and are not impacted so much. 

The rally comes after hospital staff launched a petition against the charges which attracted more than 1,500 signatures and will be presented to the trust by the union this afternoon. 

One staff member said: "With the cost of living crisis at the minute, it is just unfair and a lot of other places where you work you don't need to pay to park. 

"It feels like a kick in the teeth a bit. I feel like the NHS needs to be a bit more nourished by the government and the trusts." 

Another worker at the rally said: "A lot of people who are worst affected by this are on much lower wages, the band twos and band threes.

"They earn very little money and they probably have families, and this is just an additional payment they shouldn't have to pay." 

Another staff member said: "I spend an awful lot on petrol as I commute so having to pay on top of that is a lot. 

"I like working here, but it all factors in and we're losing staff because they're looking for jobs that pay better and are easier or less stressful and it is just an additional thing to then pay £300 a year on parking."

A West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust spokesman said:“We look forward to meeting with Unison representatives this afternoon who will share the petition with us and discuss this in more detail.

“We understand that reintroducing car parking charges is not a popular decision, and it was not an easy one to make, particularly in the context of pressures on the cost of living.

"However, free car parking arrangements for NHS staff, introduced during the pandemic and funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, came to an end on 31 March 2022.

"Since then, the Trust has been absorbing these costs and regrettably this is no longer financially sustainable.”