Local nurses have said they are being “hammered” with fines for parking at the hospital where they work.
Nurses based at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry said there is not enough space for them all to use the allocated staff parking.
One nurse told the ‘Journal’ she can spend almost an hour on some days searching for a place to park.
“We frequently have to park where it’s deemed illegal because of the lack of parking on site,” she said. “If we have nowhere to park, how are we expected to get to our work? It’s almost as if we’re being fined for going to work.
“I know of a number of colleagues who have actually been threatened with legal action because of unpaid fines.
“I can understand there must be some sort of management of the car parking system on site, but it seems outrageous that staff should be hammered financially as a result. It’s a joke that everyone - staff, patients and visitors - are competing with each other for parking spaces.”
Another nurse said: “It’s not necessarily an option for nurses to get public transport when they’re on an early or night shift, and since shifts often overrun, staff are being charged for overstaying the maximum hours permitted.
“Some nurses never park in visitor bays because they don’t want to deprive patients of visits, so they leave their car on verges and get charged.
“They are the ones who stick with the job while running up charges because they are committed to patients.”
Local MLA Mark H Durkan believes the current system isn’t working.
“Nursing staff work around the clock to keep patients safe - they should not be penalised financially for doing their jobs,” he says.
He believes it is unfair that nursing staff should lose some of their wages “simply for turning up for work”.
“Parking fees have been scrapped for hospitals in Scotland and Wales - why not here in Northern Ireland? Why the inconsistency?
“Car parking charges are an unfair expense on people frequently attending NHS hospitals, whether they are patients, staff or visitors.
“It’s time health chiefs looked at other ways to improve parking at the site for staff, visitors and patients. A fairer deal for everyone is needed.”
A spokesperson for the Western Health Trust (WHSCT) said the Altnagelvin site, like all major hospital sites, is under significant pressure for car parking.
“In assessing continuing service demands on the site and the impact of construction works, the Trust has provided an additional 680 car parking spaces on the Altnagelvin site since 2012, bringing the total number of car parking spaces to 2,286, of which 1,737 are free,” said a spokesperson.
“The Trust is committed to ensuring appropriate access to our facilities and has a traffic management system operating on the hospital site. This system ensures site access remains clear (Blue light route) and there is no abuse of car parking provision, particularly disabled car parking spaces. This applies to patients, visitors and staff who access the hospital site.
“The Trust also has a number of protected car parking areas for staff and operates a system where car parking spaces are held back for staff with caring responsibilities.”