Boris Johnson has failed to extend free hospital parking for NHS staff, after the government confirmed the measure would be scrapped.
Health secretary Matt Hancock announced on 25 March that 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.
However, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ease, the Department of Health confirmed on Wednesday that the free parking will continue only for "key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances", although no further timeline has been given.
Labour leader Keir Starmer urged the prime minister in Parliament to keep free parking, but Johnson refused to rule out bringing charges back in for hospital staff.
He told Starmer: “May I suggest he takes his latest bandwagon and parks it somewhere else.”
Johnson added: “The hospital car parks are free for NHS staff during the pandemic, and we are going to get on with our manifesto commitment to make them free for patients who need them as well.”
The confirmation that the measure would come to an end comes after health minister Edward Argar said last week that the support to make free parking available "cannot continue indefinitely" and that 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.
'It's utterly disgusting.'
Free car parking for NHS staff at hospitals is going to be scrapped, according to reports.@Piersmorgan says it is a 'disgusting' way to treat the NHS heroes that have risked their lives to save people during the coronavirus pandemic. pic.twitter.com/AnWzuqBuep
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) July 8, 2020
“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 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.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said that 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”.
Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan described the move as “utterly disgusting”.
He said: “You’re not only going to risk your life, you have to pay for the privilege to risk your life.”
Dr Hilary Jones added: “They’re asking staff to pay £20 a day in most average hospitals, but up to £77 in some hospitals per day.
“There are no perks for NHS staff, they work over and above the hours they’re paid for…
“If we’re going to encourage people to do the kind of heroic work they’ve been doing, we need to support them.”
Lib Dem co-leader Ed Davey told Sky News the government “has got to U-turn on this”.
He added: “It's unacceptable for it to treat our NHS staff like this – they should not be imposing these charges.”
Tory peer Baroness Nicky Morgan told Sky News that the decision “should be looked at again”.
She added: “It does seem very strange given how hard our NHS have worked over the last few months, that this decision has been taken.”
I oppose car parking charges for NHS staff.
And so should you 👊
— Ian Lavery MP (@IanLaveryMP) July 8, 2020
Ending NHS staff free parking shows on the morning of a mini-Budget the cuts are starting and Johnson’s a shallow charlatan when he claps health workers. Discussing on @GMB the need for another screeching U-turn
— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) July 8, 2020
Labour MP Ian Lavery wrote on Twitter: “I oppose car parking charges for NHS staff. And so should you.”
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, the shadow minister for mental health, added: “The government want to scrap free parking for NHS staff, which many thousands rely on. It also helps stop the spread of infection. We have just a few hours to force them to change its plans.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the move to scrap parking charges was “insensitive”.
Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran said NHS workers must not be "saddled with extortionate parking charges" and that 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 spokesperson for the Department of Health said “nothing had changed” since the announcement was first made.
They added: "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."
The department said the government “will commit to funding hospitals in England to improve parking”.