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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Unite warns Secretary of State over hospital car parking charges and other ‘punitive measures’

Antrim Area Hospital car park

Unite the union has issued a warning today, Thursday 16th November, to Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, after the Minister issued direction requiring Northern Ireland departments to launch public consultations on revenue raising measures.

In the absence of a functioning Executive in the province, and with departments facing a black hole in public finances, Heaton-Harris is seeking to raise revenues to 'balance the books'.

The new measures being considered include overturning agreed Stormont policy to end car parking charges at hospitals, introducing water rates on domestic homeowners, removing the cap on university tuition fees and introducing both care charges and prescription charges.

Earlier this week the Department of Health announced an eight-week consultation on the option of re-introducing hospital car parking charges.

This is in the context of severe financial pressures on health and social services and across the public sector.

Income from car parking charges is currently used to cover provision and maintenance costs. However, this will change from May 2024 when parking charges will be removed following legislation passed by the previous NI Assembly.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) says providing and maintaining car parking services will then cost the health service in the region of £10 million annually.

The Department is seeking views from the public and all interested parties on the ‘Re-introduction of Hospital Parking Charges’ as a 'fair and appropriate measure to generate additional income for the Health Service'.

Car parking charges would be restored to the current charging position.

The existing policy already includes free and concessionary parking for patients on a particular care path. If charges were to be re-introduced, these measures would be re-established and others could also be considered. This may include, for example:

• Enhancing exceptions for persons with a diagnosis of a terminal illness and relatives of in-patients who are terminally ill and/or receiving end of life care.

• Enhancing exceptions for patients with mental health disabilities and those accessing addiction services as parking charges may act as a barrier to access treatment.

• Providing 30 minutes of parking free across all chargeable sites which will help staff and public set down and collect persons/items.

• Providing free staff parking to permitted pass holders.

• Modernised payment systems.

As outlined in the consultation document, demand on health and social care services is outstripping capacity and the provision of free car parking from May 2024 will further reduce the Department’s ability to fund services.

In addition, due to increased budget pressures, car parking revenue currently used to fund free off-site staff parking, and park & ride schemes, may have to be restricted, potentially reducing the overall amount of parking spaces available.


Unite the union has told the secretary of state for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris that workers will not accept the punitive ‘revenue-raising’ measures he is pushing.


Unite general secretary Sharon Graham commented:

“Heaton-Harris is seeking to impose what amount to a tidal wave of attacks on workers and the wider community.


“Attempts to ratchet up the suffering of workers and the vulnerable are despicable and will be met with broad resistance from unions and local communities.”


Irish regional secretary Susan Fitzgerald said:

"Heaton-Harris has no democratic mandate to impose such punitive proposals. His proposals will only redouble pressures on households who are already barely surviving what is a brutal cost of living crisis and who live in the lowest paid part of these islands.


“Heaton-Harris needs to comprehend that workers are standing up for themselves and striking back. There is now escalating strike action as workers are resolved to win improved pay and proper funding of public services.”

The consultation can be accessed from the Department website. The consultation period will run for eight weeks, closing on 9 January 2024.


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