A NURSE has accused John Radcliffe Hospital managers of risking the spread of coronavirus by refusing to make its car parks free for all staff.

The Intensive Care Unit worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, described only allowing those granted permits to park as 'mud in the face' to NHS staff who are working tirelessly to treat patients amidst the Covid-19 outbreak.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, however, said at the JR site there were approximately twice as many staff as parking spaces and staff working on wards with virus patients were being prioritised for the temporary permits.

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It comes after the Government announced last month it would cover the costs of providing free car parking to NHS staff working in hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

But a nurse working at the John Radcliffe Hospital said the trust's decision to only provide spaces to those who had first obtained a permit was putting people at risk.

He said: "I applied 10 days ago and still don't know if I'll be approved for one.

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"I'm being faced with the choice of risking a possible fine by parking at the hospital or taking the bus and potentially spreading the virus."

He added: "The trust said they are prioritising those working on Covid-19 wards but it is impossible to say the risk is only limited to those areas."

The nurse said many hospitals had completely opened car parks to staff following Health Secretary Matt Hancock's announcement on March 25.

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He added with many trust staff working from home and visitors severely restricted the car parks at the Headington site were currently 'half empty'.

He also criticised a lack of communication with frontline staff, saying: "My ward sister is too busy to have to deal with this and the communications and transport teams say not to contact them, so who am I supposed to complain to?

"Morale is fantastic but this is mud in the face for staff."

The nurse added that, despite not knowing whether his permit would be approved, he was parking at the hospital as he did not want to endanger people on public transport.

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He explained: "If they try to fine me I'm prepared to take it to court and put it before a judge, especially given the Government's announcement it would pay for all NHS parking costs."

Councillor Mick Haines, who has been campaigning for a multi-storey car park at the JR to ease long-running parking problems at the site, said he 'absolutely' agreed with the nurse.

He added: "All NHS staff should be able to park there for free, they are doing such a brilliant job and should be supported.

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"I think when this is all over they should still get to park at the JR for free."

A statement from the hospital trust said: "For the duration of the Covid-19 health emergency, we are making staff car parking free.

"At the JR, where the impact is greatest, we are re-allocating visitor car parking for staff.

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"We have approximately twice as many staff based at the JR as total parking spaces, so on-site parking will be prioritised for those staff who need it most – those on wards treating Covid-19 patients."

It added: "Decisions on which staff should be prioritised for these temporary permits are being taken through our clinical divisional management structure.

"We will issue as many permits as we can and will keep this under review so we can issue more if there are spaces available."

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On the issue of car parks currently being 'half empty', the trust said: "It may take a few days for everyone entitled to the new permits to receive them, so what appear to be free spaces are likely to be in the process of being allocated to staff.

"It should be noted that, in addition to parking at the JR site, we have secured car parking from local schools and Oxford City Council, as well as 500 extra spaces from local partners within a 10-20 minute walk of the JR."

Jacquie Pearce-Gervice, head of Oxfordshire Patient Voice, said: "Patient Voice represents the patients who attend the OUH NHS Foundation Trust, and does not get involved with staffing issues. 

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"However, we know how much Patients and the Public appreciate the staff's dedication, particularly in these difficult times for all of us.  We would suggest that the Intensive Care Nurse contacts their Line Manager at the OUH about this matter."

She added:"We have heard about several cases recently, where the OUH contacted a patient's close relative and invited them to come up and say their 'goodbyes'. 

"This offer was so much appreciated and we can understand why it is important for parking places to be available in such cases.

"The last thing a relative needs is to have to drive round and look for somewhere to park."