Scottish Government foots £1m bill for free parking at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after private company refuses to waive charges

‘Greedy’ firms face hail of criticism

Consort and other PFI operators have been slated after refusing to waive the cost of parking charges
Consort and other PFI operators have been slated after refusing to waive the cost of parking charges

The Scottish Government will have to fork out almost £1 million to cover the cost of free parking at Scottish hospitals during the coronavirus crisis despite an appeal by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to the private companies to suspend their charges.

And today the PFI firms like Consort, who run Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, were blasted for putting their own profits first at a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented pressures.

Before her announcement that parking charges were being scrapped for the next three months from Monday, Ms Freeman tweeted last week: “The companies making these charges should support the national effort that is critical to addressing the challenges Covid-19 presents. I am asking the urgently to do that now. But if profit matters more, then @scotgovt will still act to support all our NHS staff.”

Now it has emerged that the government will have to meet the bill.

A spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is covering all the costs of the parking arrangements. We estimate that bill to be £950,000 for three months’ free parking for staff, patients and visitors for hospitals across Scotland.”

He said commercial confidentiality meant he could not break down the cost for each of the three PFI sites - Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

Tom Waterson, Unison’s branch chair for NHS staff in Edinburgh, was scathing about Consort.

He said: “We expect everyone to do their bit in these testing times.

“Companies like Consort should not be continually making money off the back of NHS workers - and in the main it will be workers, with visiting and outpatients cancelled.

“Making huge profits off the back of the NHS is unacceptable.

“We’ve seen the outpouring of thanks in the Clap for Carers and what see here is a private company ripping these same carers off.”

Labour’s Daniel Johnson, MSP for Edinburgh Southern, said the bill the government estimated it would have to pay was a huge amount of money and could buy lots of personal protective equipment for NHS frontline staff.

He said: “It seems extraordinary that these private companies continue to want to make a profit out of our NHS even at a time of crisis.

“Almost £1 million would buy a huge amount of protective masks or aprons which are so badly needed by our brave doctors and nurses at the moment.

“The people running these companies need to take a long hard look at themselves and waive the charges.”

Edinburgh Western MSP and Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the attitude of the private companies was “very troubling”.

He said: “At a time when the public purse is providing unprecedented levels of support for businesses like those that own the hospital car parks through business loans and the payment of staff salaries it is very miserly these firms should not meet this international crisis in the same spirit.

“They know full well that the people who will use these car park are on the frontline of this pandemic and are there to save lives.

“That their first response should be to ask who is going to pay the bill is outrageous and shames the companies involved.”

Lothian MSP and Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said it was clear Ms Freeman had wanted the companies to suspend their charges.

“That must have been the first ask,” he said. “She was obviously trying to push them to suspend the charges for now.

“But obviously they’ve not been willing to do that.

“I think they should have suspended them and it is disappointing the companies have not seen fit to do so.

“During these incredibly difficult times It would have been a gesture of good will to suspend the charges.

“They haven’t and rightly the government has put this in place.

“Most people will think everyone is trying to help each other get through this period and it’s a bit greedy of the companies really.”

But Mr Briggs said he hoped the charges could soon be scrapped permanently.

He said: “After this three month period I think it’s important we see a long term solution.

“I don’t think it would be acceptable for NHS staff to see charges put back on and I think the public would agree with that.”

Parking at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary can cost staff as much as £1500 a year. Charges range from £1.40 per hour up to £7.20 for six hours.

Last month Mr Briggs called for the Scottish Government to consider a refund scheme for hospital staff, paying individuals the cost of their parking charges.

And he calculated the move would cost £1.62 million for all three PFI sites.

All parking charges at other NHS hospitals in Scotland were scrapped in 2008, but the Scottish Government said it would cost too much to buy out the contracts of the PFI companies.

Although patients and visitors will also be entitled to free parking during the next three months, there will be few affected since all outpatient appointments have been cancelled and visiting has been suspended apart from families of those receiving end-of-life care and partners of women giving birth.

Consort could not be contacted for comment.