SDLP East Derry MLA Cara Hunter has said the removal of parking charges at hospitals will be a boost to staff, patients and visitors across the North.
She was speaking after a bill aiming to remove parking charges had its second stage in the Assembly on Monday.
Ms Hunter said the long-overdue move should be backed by all parties.
East Derry MLA Ms Hunter said:
“After the work our health staff have done throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the least we can do to recognise their efforts is ensure they will always have free parking available when going to work. Working in our health care sector is challenging at the very best of times and the last thing our staff should have to be worrying about is parking and how they are going to pay for it.
“Paying for parking might not seem like much, but when you are doing it on a daily basis, week after week, year after year it seriously depletes staff’s wage packet, which we know already is often not good enough for the tremendous work they do.
“It’s not just staff who will benefit from this proposal, hospital patients will also be able to park without worrying about paying. It is unacceptable that people attending hospitals to get vital treatment or to visit an unwell friend or relative should be expected to pay for the privilege. This can be a very difficult time for people and we should be doing everything we can to ease that pressure.
“I am glad these proposals will be coming before the Assembly tomorrow. We saw during the pandemic the boost that providing free parking to our healthcare staff gave. SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon led the way by establishing a free parking facility for NHS staff at Crumlin Road Gaol and providing free public transport for health staff.
“If we can make life easier for those working in our hospitals, who treat people and provide them with compassionate care then we must do it. To charge them to park to attend their place of work, given all the other pressures that come with it is an insult. It’s the least we can do for them after what they’ve been through in the last two years.”