ULSTER Hospital staff have been instructed to park their cars in front of a cinema one mile away from where they work.

With places in the Dundonald hospital’s pay and display parking lots at a premium, staff have now been told they’re not to use them.

Instead, workers have been told to head to a car park at Dundonald Omniplex, which is just over a mile away, then get a shuttle bus to take them the 10-minute journey to the hospital itself.

Staff have also been warned that if they don’t obey the new regime, parking wardens will be hired to prevent them using pay and display facilities.

A spokeswoman for hospital bosses said the new rules have been brought in to ‘balance the needs of those attending the hospital for appointments and visiting with staff parking’.

But the move has outraged North Down MLA Alex Easton, who claims it is ‘a bad decision coming home to roost’ after NHS chiefs axed Minor Injuries Units in Bangor and Newtownards last month.

“There were already serious parking problems at the Ulster,” he said. “We all warned that those problems would only get worse when scores of additional patients were sent over there as a result of the Minor Injuries closures.

“Expecting hard-working hospital staff to park in front of a cinema over a mile away from the Ulster is frankly ludicrous.”

The new arrangements put in place by the South Eastern Health Trust, which runs the Ulster Hospital, only apply on weekdays, with staff working weekend or out of hours shifts still able to buy monthly permits to use on-site parking.

Meanwhile some members of staff have daytime permits to park on site – though it’s understood the waiting list to get one of those permits can be several years long.

Internal Trust documents seen by this newspaper state that members of the public are struggling to find places in the hospital’s pay and display lots.

Staff parking their cars in those publicly-accessible lots, state the documents, are making that problem worse – and possibly even causing patients to be late for appointments.

As a result, Trust officials ‘strongly encourage’ staff to park outside Dundonald Omniplex instead, and get a shuttle bus to work.

The documents characterise this as ‘a very convenient option for staff based at the Ulster Hospital’ who lack permits to park on-site.

A Trust spokeswoman told this newspaper that 62% of the Ulster’s 2,100 spaces are reserved for staff parking, but stated ‘some staff choose to park in the public car park and pay a public tariff’.

Said the spokeswoman: “The South Eastern Trust must balance the needs of those attending the hospital for appointments and visiting along with the requirement for staff parking, ensuring there are car spaces available for public use.

“[The Trust’s] travel team encourages staff to avail of free car parking facilities which are close to the Ulster Hospital, with a free shuttle bus which operates at regular intervals to transport staff to and from work.

“As a result of feedback from staff, the Trust has also extended our park and ride operating timetable.”