At the time, the move was thought necessary to ensure doctors, nurses and other health professionals were not reliant on struggling public transport networks or put at greater risk of spreading or contracting the virus.
But following the government’s decision to reverse the move in the wake of falling case rates, bosses at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust (NTHFT) have confirmed the scheme is set to be scrapped later this year.
The “unavoidable” decision has been made despite union bosses urging hospital leaders in the North East to hold off bringing the fees back, in light of the growing cost of living crisis.
“Bringing back costly parking charges won't help the NHS hang on to staff in in the current job market,” said Clare Williams, northern regional secretary at UNISON, a union.
"This move will add hundreds of pounds to the cost pressures already facing health staff and reduce morale even further.
“Those already on the brink of leaving the NHS may well see this as the final straw and head for the exit, just as the service needs experienced staff the most."
The union has written to hospital trusts across the North East, calling for staff parking charges to be scrapped “permanently”.
It also claims stretched finances have seen more than a third of staff seek financial support from family or friends in the last year, while more than two fifths have taken on extra work “to make ends meet”.
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust is yet to commit to maintaining or scrapping charges at its sites, with managers saying they are “following national guidance and are currently reviewing our position”.
Defending its decision, a spokesman for NTHFT, which runs the University Hospital of Hartlepool, said: “During the period of free parking, the government reimbursed our lost income which allows us to maintain our car parks, with any surplus money diverted to front-line patient care.
“The temporary status of the government’s free parking scheme, and the unavoidable reinstatement of charges at some point in the future, was always made clear to all trust colleagues.
“With government subsidies ending on the April 1, and in line with government guidance, the trust now has no alternative to but to reintroduce charges for staff car parking.
"We have absorbed a further three months of lost income in order to begin charging again from Friday, July 1.
“This will apply to Trust staff and colleagues from our partner organisation NTH Solutions (which provides our estates and facilities management services). In relation to staff from other trusts or organisations requiring the use of our car parks for work related reasons we have a number of reciprocal arrangements in place to ensure that where feasible, staff can work across multiple sites as required.”