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Bury St Edmunds West Suffolk Hospital trust accused of 'kicking workers while they're down' for scrapping free parking, hot drinks and evening meals for staff

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Free parking, hot drinks and evening meals for staff at West Suffolk Hospital are set to be scrapped.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's board today agreed to begin charging staff for parking from next April.

Union UNISON said the decision by the Trust, which runs the Bury St Edmunds hospital, was 'kicking health workers while they're down'.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds

The Department of Health and Social Care ended funding for free parking for NHS staff, introduced during the pandemic, on March 31.

A report to the board said free staff parking for 2022 to 2023 costs the Trust about £600,000 and they had delayed reintroducing charges for as long as possible in recognition of staff concerns.

It said that the income from car parking is reinvested into services for patients.

Free parking for staff at West Suffolk Hospital will end in April
Free parking for staff at West Suffolk Hospital will end in April

During a meeting with staff representatives and Trust bosses, issues were raised around fairer and more equitable charging methods.

It was suggested that prices proposed by the Trust were high compared to East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust when compared with inflation since 1996.

The report said the issues will be considered as part of a wider review into charges in autumn 2022.

Free hot drinks and evening meals for staff, which costs £55,000 a month, will stop from September 1.

Leon Kilbourn, UNISON Eastern regional organiser, said: “Just days after the Government announced its totally unsatisfactory NHS pay offer, West Suffolk Hospital has launched its own raid on wages.

“The hospital is already creaking under the pressure of staff shortages, removing the few benefits staff enjoy will do nothing to help.

“Instead of kicking health workers while they’re down, West Suffolk should be looking at ways it can improve staff wellbeing and give them the strength to face the mountain of Covid backlogs.

"The last thing we need is more burnout and more shortages."

Last week, the Trust declared a critical internal incident due to 'immense pressure' on its services.

A report to the Trust's board today also confirmed that the number of concerns about its working culture had increased with issues raised including 'staff are broken' and 'people just want to cry'.

Meanwhile, Suffolk News revealed that thousands of working days are being lost at the Trust due to staff suffering from stress, anxiety and depression.

A West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said: “During the pandemic we put in place several extra measures of support to help staff through what was an unprecedented challenge, including the suspension of car parking charges.

“Following the end of the government’s temporary car parking funding these costs are now being absorbed by the Trust and regrettably, given current financial pressures, we are not able to continue with all these measures.

“Due to the cost-of-living crisis, the Trust is postponing the reintroduction of staff car parking charges until April 2023.

"We appreciate that charging staff for parking is not a popular or easy decision and have delayed this as much as possible.

"We will be working with staff to review our staff car park tariffs and eligibility to consider alternative approaches in the future."