Time to scrap hospital parking fees?

Time to scrap hospital parking fees?
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None of us like digging out change for a parking space, but when we have to visit the hospital we often don’t have much choice. Nearly half of us now want to see parking charges at hospitals scrapped completely, while 64 per cent of motorists say hospital parking is our most disliked parking charge of all. That’s according to a new survey from the RAC and it’s easy to see why.

Although Scotland and Wales have both now largely banned parking fees for hospital visitors in NHS hospitals, in England we fork out an average of £2.33 per hour in city hospital car parks, which can amount to nearly £20 for a whole day’s parking.

Government guidelines issued in 2014 called for a halt on unfair charges at hospitals by outlining that all NHS Trusts must make sure people can ‘get to the site (and park if necessary) as safely, conveniently and economically as possible’.  But without any enforceable laws, NHS Trusts in England have been allowed to interpret the guidelines as they please, with a handful actually putting their prices up since then.

The people hardest hit are those who have to make regular visits for hospital treatment, such as cancer sufferers and dialysis patients. Carers – who already save the state as much as £11.6 billion a year – and those who have a relative in hospital for an extended stay are particularly affected, too.

So why do hospitals charge? Many NHS Trusts defend their decision to charge for parking, saying all the money goes back into the Trust to pay for patient care, or to maintain the car park. And in fact, many of us do respect that, with 21 per cent of people asked by the RAC Survey saying they didn’t like paying hospital parking charges, but felt they were necessary.

The issue, it seems, is the amount being charged and if there are caps in place for regular visitors. The government recommends free, or reduced fees, for the disabled, frequent outpatients or visitors with gravely ill relatives, yet almost half of Trusts in England still charge disabled people for parking, while 59 per cent still charge some cancer patients.

Another problem is that many hospital car parks have been outsourced to private companies, who run it more like a money-making enterprise, often taking a huge percentage of profits, or issuing hefty parking fines to those who, often accidentally, fall foul of the rules.

What can we do?

If you think hospital charges in your area are unfair, write to your NHS Trust saying so.

If  they’re charging for cancer patients, send them a campaign pack from Macmillan – you’ll find it at www.macmillan.org.uk/getinvolved/campaigns/hospitalcarparking

The highest chargers

  • We found the most expensive hospital parking charges at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, both charging £3.40 for the first hour
  • At St Thomas’ Hospital and The Royal Free, both in London, there is no daily rate meaning visitors have to pay £3 an hour. That’s a stonking £72 for a 24-hour stay
  • The University Hospital Southampton has pocketed the most money from parking fees, receiving £3.87 million for 2014-2015