The shortage of parking for doctors, nurses and other health workers was highlighted in data suggesting 2,247 of them are unable to park at hospitals and health centres in five health board areas.
The chronic space shortage has arisen despite many newer healthcare facilities being built on out-of-town sites where more space is available.
The data was obtained by the Scottish Tories using freedom of information legislation. Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said health boards should be making it easier for staff, patients and visitors to park at hospitals, and urged the SNP government to conduct a national review on the issue.
He said: “If we have thousands of staff awaiting a permit, you can imagine how difficult it is for patients and visitors.”
The freedom of information responses showed staff at five health boards are waiting for parking permits. More than half of those waiting (1236) were in NHS Lothian, which has received repeated complaints about parking at its main Edinburgh Royal Infirmary site.
At NHS Grampian, 513 workers are waiting and there are 363 in Forth Valley. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was found to have a waiting list of 88, which has since fallen to 77. At NHS Tayside the figure was 47.
Mr Briggs called for a national review of NHS parking and transport, saying: “MSPs across the country are always being contacted about just how hard it is to get parked at hospitals.
“Health workers are under enough strain without having to spend ages before their shift looking for a parking space.
“Many new hospital sites are built out of town where space isn’t an issue – it simply should not have got to this stage.
“It’s all very well encouraging staff to find greener ways to get to work, but the priority has to be making it easy for them to get to work conveniently and on time.
“Increasingly I hear from medical professionals who tell me on too many occasions they are driving around looking for parking spaces when patients are waiting to see them in clinics.”
He added: “It’s time for SNP ministers to undertake a national review of NHS parking and transport and look to how new solutions can be developed across Scotland.”
The SNP announced parking charges at publicly-owned hospitals would be scrapped in 2008 but said it would be too expensive to do the same at sites such as Edinburgh and Glasgow Royal Infirmaries and Ninewells in Dundee, which are privately owned and managed.
Labour MSP Jenny Marra plans to bring forward a Member’s Bill to the Scottish Parliament to remove parking charges.
George Curley, director of operations and facilities at NHS Lothian, said: “We have a duty to make sure that patients coming to our hospitals, who often have mobility issues, are frail or elderly, can park as close to the site as possible.
“As well as making our hospital as accessible to patients as possible, we have a duty to encourage staff to make healthier and more environmentally friendly travel choices.
“We work hard to support staff at looking at alternatives to bringing the car to work as we simply cannot provide parking for our 24,000-strong workforce.”
NHS Grampian said: “Staff parking permits are issued for two NHS Grampian sites; Royal Cornhill Hospital and Foresterhill Health Campus.
“The majority of the waiting list will be taken up by staff applying for a Foresterhill permit. An estimated 7,000 members of NHS Grampian staff call the Foresterhill Health Campus their main base; with around 1400 staff spaces available, demand will always outstrip supply.
“There is little scope to significantly increase staff parking on the campus at present.”
NHS Forth Valley said: “More than 2,800 permits have been issued to staff at Forth Valley Royal Hospital following a permit evaluation system which was developed in partnership with staff and staff representatives.
“This system, which is designed to be as fair and equitable as possible, takes into account a wide range of factors. These include shift patterns, requirement to travel across different sites, on-call responsibilities, ability to access public transport, childcare and carer responsibilities.
“We also have separate dedicated car parks for patients and visitors.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said that, since the freedom of information request, its waiting list had gone down to 77 out of a workforce of 38,000.
NHS Tayside said: “We actively encourage our staff and members of the public to consider more sustainable means of travelling to hospital wherever possible, such as public transport or car sharing.”
The Scottish Government said it “abolished car park fees at a number of hospitals in December 2008 – a move which has saved patients, visitors and staff around £32 million and has raised concerns where contracts that predate this government mean charges are still in place”.