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'Our healthcare heroes are at breaking point and need free parking'

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Mater Hospital Dublin

Mater Hospital Dublin

Mater Hospital Dublin

Dublin City Council is under increasing pressure to reverse its decision to end free parking for healthcare workers outside hospitals.

In March the authority had asked clampers to exercise their discretion on streets surrounding hospitals due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Now the council is proposing to end the concession at the end of this month. It said residents who live near hospitals and have parking permits had been having difficulties parking near their homes.

The decision has upset hospital staff and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO). Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is being urged to act.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane told the Herald he is "deeply disappointed" at the council's decision.

"There's a lot of reasons free parking was made available and we believe it should be in place for the duration of the emergency and until they have managed the Covid-19 situation," he said.

"I'm very disappointed at the decision. I would have imagined that the Health Minister would have intervened and made sure this was kept in place.

"We met the INMO a number of times in the last number of months. They're telling us nurses are at breaking point. Many are suffering from mental health difficulties arising from dealing with Covid. Some need counselling supports."

He said frontline staff should not be losing the supports they have as they head into a "very difficult winter season".

"We're going to see reduced capacity in hospitals because of infection control and social distancing guidelines and the winter flu is coming," he claimed.

"They're in a very difficult position and the last thing that they need is supports that were put in place taken away from them. I think this is the wrong move by the Government and it should be reversed."

In a letter to Mr Cullinane, council chief executive Owen Keegan said the decision was not made on revenue grounds.

"The concession will end on August 31, after which a full parking enforcement service will operate in the vicinity of hospitals," Mr Keegan writes.

It is understood a number of issues were raised by residents surrounding hospitals that free parking was being utilised not just by frontline workers and that space shortages were becoming an issue.

As some residents surrounding hospitals do not have driveways to park their cars in, they would rely on parking at the hospital. However, they were unable to do so due to non-frontline workers also leaving their cars there as it was free of charge.

Helen Whitty from the Irish Association of Healthcare Assistants (IAHA) said members needed free parking.

Difficult

She said: "It's like saying to healthcare assistants, nursing staff and other health professionals that we value you, we clap for you, we'll say you're amazing while there's a crisis. But the minute that the crisis begins to ebb, you go back to being a regular utility worker.

"The parking issue just highlights how difficult it is for healthcare workers who are on a much lower end of the pay scale."

She said that healthcare workers were at the forefront of the pandemic.

"It's almost like they're at the mercy of the crisis. This is really an opportunity for the Government to say what is a fair wage, taking into account things like their travel costs and other expenses."

She said there were differences in salaries of healthcare assistants who work privately and those who work at the HSE.