Fury has erupted after it was revealed that at least six hospitals in England put their parking charges up by 100% or more last year while NHS trusts in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales provide free parking for most patients.
As the NHS in England struggles to cut £20billion from its budget, many trusts are putting up the cost of parking for patients and visitors, with Stockport NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London doubling charges in 2010/11 from 50p an hour for the first three hours to £1.
The biggest increase was at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, which raised its charges from 25p to 75p, an increase of 200%. Airedale NHS Foundation Trust put its fees up by 150% from £1 to £2.50 an hour.
In total, more than a quarter – 28% - of trusts put up their charges between 2010 and 2011, with just 16% reducing them, according to figures from the NHS Information Centre, which were analysed by data company, SSentif.
Car parks at hospital trusts in the South West were the most affordable at an average of 52p an hour, while London and the South East were the most expensive at an average of £1.02 an hour.
At the other end of the scale, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust and Nottingham Healthcare NHS Trust both introduced free parking in 2010/11, while Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust reduced its fees by 83% from £1.20 and hour to 20p, and Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust reduced its from £1.50 to 50p.
Charges still differ wildly across the country and those with long-term illnesses, or those visiting people with a long-term illness, are paying the price
Judy Aldred, managing director of SSentif, said: "Despite widespread criticism, the Government took the decision to keep hospital car parking charges in place and to allow trusts to set their own hourly rates.
“While it is encouraging to see that some trusts have removed their charges or reduced them, our comparative study shows that charges still differ wildly across the country and those with long-term illnesses, or those visiting people with a long-term illness, are paying the price."
It is often money patients do not have in these troubled financial times and is a tax on the sick when people have already paid for their health service.
Despite the introduction of free parking in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the coalition government said in 2010 that it would not back Labour’s pledge to scrap charges in England. Currently, NHS trusts rake in £100m a year from parking fees and many car parks are under the control of PFI operators, which set the fees and see parking as a key income generator.
Commenting on the survey, Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “The extraordinary rise in the price of car parking at our hospitals is alarming. Patients and visitors who attend hospital on a regular basis and for long period of time are being forced to pay these exorbitant charges. It is often money patients do not have in these troubled financial times and is a tax on the sick when people have already paid for their health service. Hospitals should be properly supported by the Government and should not have to rely on charging patients and visitors to park to make ends meet. Car parking charges make a mockery of a service supposed to be free at the point of need.”
Health Minister, Simon Burns, said that while the Government did not plan to make parking free, he expected patients who needed to visit hospitals frequently to be treated ‘fairly’, adding that parking fees should not ‘discriminate against them’.
He added: “NHS organisations must make the best use of public funds and this includes setting car parking charges at a rate that is reasonable for the communities they serve and providing appropriate concessions.
NHS organisations must make the best use of public funds and this includes setting car parking charges at a rate that is reasonable for the communities they serve and providing appropriate concessions
”No one should be paying extortionate amounts to park in an NHS car park, but introducing free parking could cost the NHS more than £100m, money that would otherwise be spent on patient care.”
And he said that, according to the research, three quarter of trusts had kept fees the same or reduced them.
Commenting on its decision to increase the levy for parking, a spokesman at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our previous car parking charges were extremely low in comparison to other hospitals and had not been increased for several years. They were therefore increased in 2010, bringing us closer to the average of other hospitals and they have not risen further over the last two years.
It is important to note that the revenue from car park charges is used to maintain our car parks and hospital roadways and to pay for car park security. It is important that we have this revenue so we do not use any money which is for patient care
“Disabled people and cancer patients park for free and concessions are available to regular visitors, such as pregnant women and family members of long-term patients.
“It is important to note that the revenue from car park charges is used to maintain our car parks and hospital roadways and to pay for car park security. It is important that we have this revenue so we do not use any money which is for patient care.”
And in a statement managers at The Royal Marsden Hospital said that following the increase, prices would be frozen for the ‘foreseeable future’. It adds: “Car parking charges are there to cover the substantial costs involved in managing a hospital car park, including security, signage and maintenance.”