Students who work in Northampton General Hospital (NGH) without pay are facing court action after failing to pay parking charges which were raised from £1 to £10 per day.
The dispute comes after the hospital raised parking charges from £1 per day to £10 for student staff around eight months ago. But some of the University of Northampton students who work full time at the hospital for free as part of their healthcare degrees, say they cannot afford the new charges and have refused to pay them since they were introduced.
This week they will be meeting with a solicitor for advice about the situation.
One student in the group, who did not want to be named, said: “We work about 12 hours a day and don’t have time to get other jobs to subsidise ourselves; there is no way we can pay £50 per week for parking.
“The alternative would be to park on streets away from the hospital, but I wouldn’t be comfortable walking around town while it’s still dark at 6.30am in the morning or 9.30pm at night.
“When we signed contracts to train here the parking was £1 per day, then it was changed without warning because students are deemed ‘non-essential’.
“It’s a private car park so the charges cannot be legally enforced, but court action would damage our employability. We have worked so hard that something like this, only six months away from the end of the degree for some of us, would be awful.
“We understand that changes are being made to make parking at the hospital cheaper for the families of patients, but what about the people who look after them?”
But the hospital insists that patients must remain the priority and says that students who do not want to pay the charges can use other methods of transport to get there.
NGH director of facilities and capital development, Charles Abolins, said: “Car parking at NGH remains a problem despite some increases in spaces on site over the last two years and the leasing of two hundred additional spaces off site for staff. There are almost 5,000 staff employed at the hospital with spaces for less than 1,500, and staff car parks are often at full capacity by 8.00am every day.
“One of our key priorities is to improve parking for our patients. Whereas we wish to accommodate as many staff cars as possible on site there is no contractual obligation to provide parking, and it is the responsibility of staff to make their own transport and parking arrangements if they choose to use their vehicles.
“For those staff and students who are no longer eligible for a parking permit on site we are not asking them to pay £10 per day. That would be their choice. We are however asking them to find alternative modes of transport to the hospital, including using the free shuttle buses from the university campus in to town.
“In order to improve the situation we leased a further 100 spaces for staff off site last year. This however, has to be paid for and hence the need to increase the charge for staff. Currently the charge for parking, for the majority of staff equates to less than £1 per day, which is considerably less than anywhere in Northampton.
“Car parking provision on the NGH site is not a limitless resource, and we are faced with some difficult choices in order to find an affordable solution to the current parking problems on site. The Trust Board recognises that last year’s changes have not been popular with some staff and students.
“The bottom line is that patients are our priority, and parking for key staff is the balance we have to strike.”