TRADE unions have backed a campaign for hospital staff to be reimbursed if they have to pay to park at work.

The Scottish Conservatives said nurses, doctors and other NHS workers should be not left out of pocket by hospital parking charges as they called on the Scottish Government to review the system.

Although the Scottish Government scrapped hospital parking charges across NHS Scotland in 2008, they remain in place at three sites: Ninewells in Dundee, Glasgow Royal Infirmary and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

Read more: Cheaper to pay a fine that a day's parking in Edinburgh

These car parks are owned and operated under Private Finance Initiatives dating back to the Labour-led administration which the Scottish Government has previously said it would be too costly to buy out.

Dr Lewis Morrison, Chair of BMA Scotland said: “Hospital parking is a long-standing issue for NHS staff, and is regularly highlighted to us by our members who work long and often unpredictable hours when public transport is not always an option.

“Charges for staff who may be working extremely long hours can also raise issues of safety; having to park off-site may mean a doctor or nurse has to walk a considerable distance alone late at night to get to and from their cars. With doctors under pressure like never before, issues like parking charges make difficult working lives even harder.

"More needs to be done to ensure our hard working NHS staff can go about their jobs without this hanging over them, and we welcome any and all efforts to deliver effective on-site parking for staff and stop those working in a hospital being hit with excessive parking charges.”

Read more: Glasgow Royal Infirmary staff 'harassed and bullied' over NHS parking fines

At the GRI in Glasgow, staff pay £105 for a monthly parking permit or £1.70 per hour between 8am and 6pm. Between 6pm and 8am, the charge is set at a maximum of £3.20 regardless of the length of stay.

At Ninewells, monthly staff permits cost £37.70 or £452.40 annually, or £2.40 per park.

At the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, some staff have previously claimed £250-a-year parking permits. However, hundreds of staff were left furious in April after being told their permits would be revoked from July, coinciding with the opening of the new children's hospital on the site.

Staff have been encouraged to use public transport instead, or face paying £.7.20 per day to park on site.

Patients and visitors must also pay to use the car parks.

Read more: Nurse launches petition over lack of parking permits 

Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Miles Briggs MSP, who has launched a petition calling on the Scottish Government to act, said hospital parking complaints were regularly raised with MSPs and MPs.

He added: “We don’t believe it is fair that Scots should have to pay such high fees simply because they are unwell or need to visit a loved one who is ill.

“It’s also not right that NHS staff should have to pay to park at their place at work, especially given the long and awkward hours many of them work.

“That’s why we want to see a national review of hospital parking, and for NHS staff to be refunded the cost of their parking."

Last year, Unison - which represents nurses, porters, kitchen staff and cleaners - said it was alarmed that hospital staff at Glasgow Royal Infirmary were being "harassed and bullied" by debt collectors over unpaid parking fines.

In one case, a disabled admin worker was being chased for £254 for two parking tickets issued after she briefly left her car in a drop-off zone at the GRI because all the spaces - including permit and disabled bays - were full.

Although the site was run by private parking firm Apcoa, the fine collection had been outsourced to a Warwickshire-based firm - QDR.

Willy Duffy, Unison Scotland head of health, said: “Staff cannot always use public transport as they work irregular shift patterns, and it not always available. Staff are often forced to pay, walk long distances sometimes late at night, or park in the local area which causes problems for local communities.

"We welcome that the Conservatives now say hospital parking charges are wrong, and will reimburse staff."

However, Mr Duffy added that PFI schemes were first introduced in the UK by the Conservative government of the early 1990s, and said the party to "must explain how they would substantially increase NHS funding in the coming years".

Theresa Fyffe, Director, Royal College of Nursing Scotland said a "balance had to be struck" between encouraging more public transport use and meeting the needs of staff, patients and visitors to hospital.

She added: "For those working shifts, public transport is often not an option to get to work early in the morning or home later at night.

“Our members tell us that, at a time when hospitals are struggling to attract enough nursing staff, issues around access to car parking are having an impact on recruitment and retention.

"In addition, it is unfair that NHS staff at three sites are still having to pay so much for car parking, when staff in most of the rest of Scotland don’t face such high charges."

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said hospital staff, visitors and patients had saved £37 million since the Scottish Government scrapped NHS parking fees in December 2008. 

She added: “We would like to be able to scrap car park charges at PFI car parks, but contractually we are unable to do so.

“Last year the UK Government flatly rejected calls to remove NHS car park fees in England stating their view that charging regimes were necessary – we fundamentally disagree.

“We believe that charging to park at hospitals places an unnecessary financial burden on families and those needing treatment, as well as NHS staff.

"We have been clear that all health boards should work with their PFI contractors to ensure that any charges in place are kept to a minimum.

"We expect all PFI contracts to be kept under review to ensure best value for the public purse.”