SDLP 'Extremely Disappointed' Assembly Further Delays Hospital Parking Change

The SDLP have expressed their disappointment after the Assembly backed a two-year delay to free parking at hospitals.

Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party and the UUP rejected an SDLP proposal to cut the delay to one year.

Reiterating a call for the Health Minister to introduce free parking as soon as possible, Opposition Health Spokesperson Colin McGrath, said: "What we heard in the Assembly today was in stark contrast to when this legislation passed in 2022, just before the Assembly election. At that time parties lined up to take credit for introducing free parking and raised the hopes of health staff and patients that this policy would soon be introduced. Today Sinn Féin, the Alliance and the UUP simultaneously stood up and lamented this delay, but waved it through at the first opportunity.
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"The Health Minister himself told the Assembly that he believed this policy could be introduced in less than two years, and the reasons put forward for supporting the delay will provide little comfort to hard working staff who will be out of pocket before they even begin a shift. Nor will it help patients who regularly attend hospital and find themselves having to pay each time.

"What we heard from the Minister today was significantly different from what we were told when this legislation passed. We have moved from universal free parking to a criteria-based system for staff, with everything from budget to health waiting lists and installing new systems cited as a reason for the delay.

"The Minister told the Assembly just last week that he hoped the mechanisms to enable free car parking could be in place by the Autumn. The SDLP Opposition will continue to push for free car parking to be introduced at the first opportunity and for the needs of staff to be prioritised in the interim."

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