ERI staff set to boycott shops and facilities over parking row

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary staff are planning to boycott shops and catering facilities at the flagship hospital in protest at the proposed increase in car-parking charges.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 31st March 2017, 7:05 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:31 pm
Staff are planning a boycott of  Edinburgh Royal Infirmary facilities following a row over parking. Picture; Greg Macvean
Staff are planning a boycott of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary facilities following a row over parking. Picture; Greg Macvean

Hundreds of angry workers are being urged to “bring a packed lunch” in a move aimed at hitting operator Consort Healthcare Ltd in the pocket.

The firm which built the ERI as part of a PFI scheme in 2003 has control over all shops and catering facilities that are not operated by the NHS.

The initiative is part of a six-point battle plan union chiefs have drawn up in a bid to force hospital bosses to back down over proposed car-parking price hikes, including charging beleaguered staff £15 a day to park in patients and visitors spaces.

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The WH Smith shop at the ERI. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Last week, the Evening News told how Nicola Sturgeon, responding at First Minister’s Questions, said she did not think the proposals, which would see a staggering 114 per cent rise for staff using the spaces, were “fair”.

Other proposals suggested at a union meeting with staff included a mass request for redeployment to medical centres offering free parking – with Unison having drawn up a letter stating it is “no longer financially viable” for members to continue to work at the ERI.

Unison branch chair Tom Waterson said more than 150 staff crammed into a small lecture theatre at the Chancellor’s Building at the hospital.

He said: “We have had very positive feedback from staff and they support the fight against car-parking charges.

The WH Smith shop at the ERI. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

“There was a mixture of staff nurses, ancillary staff, medical staff, therapists and administration – the whole range.

“There was a lot of anger, as you would expect, but then we asked them what they wanted to do about the proposed charges and what ideas they had.

“We’re not asking for anybody to break the law, or break their contracts, so what we came up with was a couple of ideas that came forward which we will be pursuing.

“We are looking into the possibility of a boycott by staff of all catering facilities at the Royal Infirmary site which will directly affect NHS Lothian and Consort.

“We are telling staff to bring a packed lunch to work so there’s no chance of any profits going to Consort.”

He added: “The staff in their hundreds, if not thousands, will be requesting a move from the Royal Infirmary to a different site. Staff want to move to medical centres and hospitals that don’t charge for parking throughout the Lothians.

“We are putting together a draft letter for the staff which they will then circulate round the wards and departments. NHS Lothian Partnership had a meeting on Tuesday where they agreed that the bosses will be having a meeting with the staff – but they aren’t backing down over charges.

“Unison have contacted the deputy chief executive and finance director, requesting they meet with staff to hear their concerns.”

The fee hike plans have been slammed and follow the Evening News’ revelation that 614 staff are on the waiting list for car park permits at ERI – and 500 have been on it for more than five years.

The cost of a staff permit is also set to rise from £250 to £300 under the new proposal. There are 2000 staff permits in circulation.

A petition launched online, believed to be by an ERI staff member calling herself “Angry Nurse”, now has 4817 signatures and will be presented to Consort, ERI and Unison once it reaches the 5000 mark.

Teresa Coll signed and wrote: “I’m signing because it’s a disgrace! Nursing staff don’t earn enough and should not be expected to bus or walk a mile to their car after a 12-hour shift.”

Hazel McAulay wrote: “It is ridiculous that a company is making money from those attending or working at a hospital.”

And Mervyn Graham asked: “What’s the rationale behind this? No need, just pure greed.”

The proposed plans to be brought in as early as August would see the maximum daily charge for staff parking in visitor and patient car parks increase from the current £7 daily rate to £15.

Other charges include a 30p increase in visitor and patient parking for up to an hour from the current price of £1.30 to £1.60 – a 23 per cent rise.

At present there are 594 parking spaces for patients and visitors at the ERI and 1125 staff parking spaces – with 10,000 staff on site.

An extra 273 visitor spaces and 60 disabled and drop-off spaces will be added once the new Sick Kids Hospital opens.

The charges for the car park are set by Consort Healthcare in line with the existing PFI agreement.

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: “I welcome the fact that Unison is encouraging its staff members to lobby NHS Lothian and MSPs on the proposed and very unfair hike in car parking charges. I hope that senior NHS Lothian management will agree to Unison’s request to meet with staff to hear their concerns directly.

“As well as contacting MSPs, I would encourage local staff members to make representations to the Health Secretary Shona Robison so that ministers are fully aware of the extent of the justifiable concern on this matter.

“I will also continue to press ministers to intervene and help stop the increases going ahead – increases which have led some staff questioning whether they will be able to afford to carry on working at the ERI.”

George Curley, director of operations for facilities at NHS Lothian, said: “Arrangements are being made for meetings between staff and managers, and no decisions have yet been made about the proposed increase to car parking charges.”

He has previously defended the proposal saying it would be the first parking charge increases since the hospital opened in 2003, except for a VAT rise. He said staff were “lucky” to have a “Park and Ride” service two miles away which provided regular links to the hospital while Edinburgh’s public transport was “excellent”.

Mr Curley added: “These proposals have been developed to protect car parking spaces for patients and to support our green travel plan which encourages staff to use alternative modes of transport.”

Under the PFI deal, NHS Lothian pays Consort £60 million a year to run and maintain the hospital and by 2028 will have handed over £1.26 billion.

At that stage, health chiefs will have to negotiate a price with Consort to buy the hospital, extend the lease by another 25 years, or walk away, leaving the hospital and its contents to the firm.

Experts have said that it may halve in value by 2028, given it was only ever estimated to have a 45-year lifespan.

Details of the agreement, emerged after NHS Lothian’s 2010 accounts revealed the deal with Consort allows health chiefs to extend the contract until 2053.

Any potential deal to buy the hospital is years off but it is understood there would be no way Consort, which also profits from running the canteen, hospital shops and car park, would sell prior to 2028.

At the time it was built in 2003 it was Europe’s biggest PFI deal, and heralded as a world-class hospital. The new building was designed by Keppie Design and constructed under a PFI contract by Balfour Beatty. The development of the new site cost £184m – £34m more than budgeted.

Staff and Unison’s 6-point plan

n Staff have been asked to complete a pro forma letter, with Unison copied in that requests a meeting with senior managers to discuss the possibility of redeployment. The letter states “it is no longer financially viable for me to continue to work on this site”.

n Unison is exploring the possibility of legally asking staff to boycott the catering facilities on the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary site that are not operated by the NHS.

n Unison had a constructive meeting with the health secretary on Monday night and will continue dialogue with the Scottish Government. This follows on the back of Nicola Sturgeon describing the proposed car parking charge increases as “unfair” when asked about them at First Minister’s Questions last week.

n The union will encourage staff to support the online petition in relation to car parking.

n Unison has contacted the deputy chief executive and finance director at NHS Lothian requesting that they meet staff to hear their concerns over the car parking situation.

n Unison is asking staff to contact their local MSP to complain about the proposed increase.