NURSES at the Royal Hospital are waiting up to three years for parking permits to allow them to avail of a reduced parking fee at the RVH onsite car park.

An auxiliary nurse, currently on the waiting list, told the Andersonstown News she knows colleagues who have been waiting up to three years for a parking permit, leaving them out of pocket.

“I have friends and colleagues who have been waiting up to three years before they received their permits to allow them reduced onsite parking and that’s just far too long a wait, especially given the long shifts we work and the low salary,” said the nurse who didn’t want to be named.  “Once you get a permit it’s no guarantee for a space either, there may be days you still end up having to opt for alternative parking outside the hospital facilities that can cost that bit extra.

“I understand we get reduced parking rates but over the waiting time for a permit, and the long shifts we work, it all adds up. Being given something practical like free parking with the job is something that would be greatly appreciated.”

Currently there is no free parking for hospital staff in the north and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says some nurses are having to pay up to £18 per day for parking at the hospital facilities in Belfast. RCN Northern Ireland Deputy Director Garrett Martin said: “Access to parking for nurses across the HSC varies greatly. There are serious inequalities in relation to which staff are charged for parking and inconsistencies in relation to charging rates across Northern Ireland. Health care staff are already struggling to get by due to a fall in the real value of nurses’ salaries and additional car parking charges are a further tax on their salaries.

“Parking at certain hospital sites in Belfast is particularly difficult with nurses not being guaranteed a space even if they have paid. Nurses also work a range of shifts and there are related safety issues for those working unsociable hours.

“The inequality and inconsistency in charges needs to be reviewed urgently.”

SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said it was a ‘scandal’ that the Royal Victoria Hospital paid over £1.5m in fees to a private contractor for their car park.

“The health service is already facing significant pressures, which is being felt daily by patients, staff and the public, the cost of car parking only adds to the stress.

“It is appalling that nurses have to wait up to three years for a parking permit, if this delay is caused by the private car park contractor then the Belfast Health Trust need to intervene immediately. I have raised the issue with Belfast Trust. This issue underlines the need for the RVH car park to be controlled by the Trust as soon as possible and discounted parking provided to staff and patients”

A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said parking spaces are not designated for any particular staff groups and they do not provide free car parking spaces for nursing on acute sites.

“The Royal site has a limited number of parking spaces and we actively manage the car park resources to limit the queues for visitors by redefining staff areas at peak times or by relocating the fence between staff and visitor parking,” the spokesperson said. “There are currently 4,013 designated staff parking spaces throughout our sites and new staff can apply for a space. On the Royal Hospitals site staff are charged at a discounted rate as a result of the staff subsidy, for those who earn less than £25k. This rate is calculated at 0.04% of their annual salary and contracted hours.  The maximum rate for parking on the Royal site is £5 per day, and the spaces are available to all staff including nurses.

“Any member of staff who is unsuccessful in being allocated a parking space will be placed on a waiting list.”

The spokesperson said the contract with private contractor will come to an end in October. “We have recently procured a piece of land adjacent to the site and are in the process of seeking planning approval for car parking in this area.”