Edinburgh Royal Infirmary parking: Union urges delay to end of shuttle bus to allow a look at alternatives

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Health bosses are being urged to postpone the withdrawal of a vital free shuttle bus service for staff at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary to allow alternatives to be explored.

The bus between the hospital and the Sheriffhall park-and-ride site was introduced two years ago because of a shortage of parking spaces at the Infirmary. But now NHS Lothian, faced with massive cuts, says it can no longer afford it and plans to end the service on March 29.  

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Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs called for an urgent rethink over the scrapping of the shuttle bus. He said: “Many NHS staff rely on this service which makes their overall working day more straightforward. Stripping it away risks damaging morale and punishing a workforce which is already overstretched and under-appreciated."

Unions are fighting the move and Tracy Anne Miller, Unison branch secretary at the hospital, said there were other options which should be looked at.

Unison says there are empty spaces in the Royal Infirmary car park which could be used if the staff car-share scheme was revised.
Picture: Ian GeorgesonUnison says there are empty spaces in the Royal Infirmary car park which could be used if the staff car-share scheme was revised.
Picture: Ian Georgeson
Unison says there are empty spaces in the Royal Infirmary car park which could be used if the staff car-share scheme was revised. Picture: Ian Georgeson | Ian Georgeson

She said up to a third of the spaces in the staff car park at the Infirmary were unused for a large part of the day and claimed visitors were often parking there. "The staff car park has 1,200 spaces and at 9.30am there are still 400 of them empty - we do have back shift workers, but not as many as that. Between 1pm and 3pm the car park is full and then it starts to empty again - and we don't believe that's staff, we believe that's visitors using the car park.  But that is a staff-only car park, it's the only car park staff have.

"If the shuttle bus was going to go, a lot of work should have been done to maximise the use of the staff car park."

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And she said the staff car-share scheme, also introduced in response to the parking crisis two years ago, could be expanded and the rules on who qualifies relaxed.  She said: Our view is there is the opportunity to extend the car-share scheme and give another 400 cars per day access to the car park. 

"The rules at the minute are so tight around car share - it's a minimum of three people and you have to work in the same ward or department as the people you're car-sharing with.  We have husbands, wives, next-door neighbours who all work on the Little France campus but they don't work in the same ward so they're not eligible to car share.

"Originally the scheme was being run as a pilot because no-one knew what the demand would be, so the rules were kept quite tight. But with 400 empty spaces it's time to go back and review the car-share scheme and how we can widen it to more people.

"Even holding 100 spaces back for anybody who wants them on a back shift and comes in at 1pm, we could be releasing another 300 car-share permits if we allowed three people, regardless of where they worked on the campus, to car-share. If we loosened the rules around car share the shuttle bus would become unnecessary."

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Ms Miller said the parking situation at the Infirmary two years ago had been "horrendous". There were long tailbacks of cars queuing to get into the car park and reports of some staff arriving hours before their shift to get a space and avoid having to walk to their car off the site after finishing a shift late at night.

But Ms Miller said: "Since the introduction of the shuttle bus and the car-share scheme there has been not one single issue about staff getting to and from their work, so it was working. We're hoping they will agree to a three-month extension to the March deadline to give us the opportunity to look at some of these alternatives."

Jim Crombie, deputy chief executive of NHS Lothian, said: “Given the severe financial challenges across healthcare, there will be tough choices ahead and we must prioritise patient treatment and care, protecting them from the impact of savings as much as we can. Because of this we have made the difficult decision to withdraw the staff shuttlebus. We continue to review the parking permit scheme and other arrangements to ensure optimal usage of parking spaces. Our staff side partnership (unions) will continue to be involved in this process.”  

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