Ask anyone who works at any of the Oxford health Foundation Trust main sites about car parking and then brace yourself for an outpouring of frustration. Staff and managers alike report difficulty finding places to park, often impacting on their ability to get their work done in the limited time available, stressing staff out and undermining the trust’s drive to ever greater efficiency.
Community staff in particular report delays in meeting patient appointments, wasting time driving round car parks. Staff at the Abingdon site have also complained that recent additional restrictions put in place to control on-site parking has made things worse. The decision to relocate more services to fewer sites to save money has increased the traffic on the remaining sites. In response OHFT management are planning to bring in permits to limit the numbers of cars on sites to relieve the parking problems.
This is nothing new as similar plans have been proposed for at least the past 5 years, but these latest plans again run the risk of failing because the trust also wants to charge staff and patients for parking.
The response from staff to the proposal to charge them for permits they need to carry out essential work has turned frustration into fury - worsened by the fact that permits won’t guarantee a parking space - something Unison is seeking legal advice on.
Already hit by wage freezes, price rises, increased pension contributions, loss of cost of living supplements and a heavy losses for most community staff with the change in mileage rates, many staff see the charges as a step too far.
Some community teams are looking at boycotting the use of their own cars and demanding the trust provides pool cars. Others have said they would be prepared to take some form of industrial action to stop the charges.
Others have simply pointed out they will not be able to afford the charges and will have to find places to park off site making it harder for them to get to work, and in some cases exposing them to risks they would normally avoid with late night working.
Then there is the impact on patients and relatives - with patients being charged to receive healthcare that is supposed to be free at the point of delivery and relatives being penalised for having a sick or disabled relative.
The Trust policy circulated to the unions has detail on who qualifies for permits, what process applies for charging staff and patients, penalties for a range of parking offences and a system of monitoring “incidents”. However there is no indication that the trust has carried out an Equality Impact Assessment to see if any group of staff or patients are discriminated against. This is a major failing Public Services Equality Duties section of the Equalities Act.
Are out-patients and carers more likely to be women and therefore be subject to charges because of their gender?
Will relatives from BME communities, already subject to discrimination in wages, have to pay a higher proportion of their income in charges? Will this be compounded by having to visit relatives who are more likely to have longer stays in hospital?
What about relatives of older adults from Banbury? Will they have to pay even more to keep in touch with their relatives following the closure of the Fiennes?
There is also the issue that everyone has already paid for the NHS through tax and National Insurance. The charges look nothing more than an attempt to make staff, patients and carers pay for government cuts to NHS funding.
A petition drawn up by Unison has been launched with the support of Unite, the RCN and CSP unions, and has been signed by hundreds of staff in just a few days. In addition a Freedom of information request has been issued to patient representatives to find out what consultation has been taken place about the impact of the the proposed policy on carers and patients.
This latest squeeze on staff comes as Unison is preparing to ballot its members for action against further cuts in pay. The further impoverishment of staff by charging for permits is likely to fuel support for action as more staff feel they cannot take any more.