Hospital car parking charges - who should pay?
PUBLISHED: 12:00 01 February 2017
The income from car parking fees at Hinchingbrooke Hospital over the last financial year was £820,000, figures obtained by The Hunts Post have revealed.
The largest percentage is made up of patient and visitor charges, but staff at the hospital also contributed £28,000, over the period from April 2015 to April 2016. The trust has confirmed about half the income is spent on operating and maintenance costs, including £45,000 to operate the barrier system, and any surplus cash is redirected to other hospital departments and ultimately benefits patient care.
In a statement, the trust told The Hunts Post: “Our priority is to provide safe, accessible and secure on-site car parking for patients, visitors and carers to help reduce anxiety when visiting the hospital. Providing and maintaining on-site car parking facilities is a significant cost for the hospital and as an NHS trust we are expected to, at least, cover these costs. All income we receive from car parks goes directly back into providing and maintaining car parking facilities for patients, visitors and carers, and any surplus goes towards providing high quality care for our patients.”
Figures published by the Press Association in early January showed NHS hospitals in England made more than £120 million - the highest on record - from car park charges over the 2015/16 period. Some MPs and patient groups would like to see the fees abolished and the Patient Association has accused hospitals of “taking money from the sick to top up NHS coffers”.
Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, believes patients and families shouldn’t have to deal with the added stress of “unfair parking charges”. He has come under pressure from Conservative backbenchers to put an end to what some have described as “rip-off” costs.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the new figures showed the “shocking reality” faced by vulnerable patients.
According to the PA figures, the lowest daily charges were £3.50 at hospitals in the East Midlands and the highest, was more than £20, at several hospitals in London. Hinchingbrooke charges £2.90 for a four-hour stay, compared to £2.80 an hour an Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, and does offer a wide range of concessions to carers and patients receiving long-term treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and those visiting, or caring for, critically ill patients.
Packa Risi, director of facilities at Hinchingbrooke says the hospital operates a “fair, not free” policy for charging.
“What people often don’t realise is, that we have 44 acres of car parking space at the trust, so we have to have some money available in the event that the car parks needed to be resurfaced or repaired and this could run into millions. It is about getting the balance right and we review the charging policy regularly. For those in low income groups, we can help, not only with car parking charges, but with travel to hospital through our rebate scheme. It is a fine line, but any surplus money is redirected and does benefit patient care and allows us to plan better for health care.”
Mr Risi also pointed out that the £2.90 charge was based around an average appointment or visiting period and if clinics over-ran for any reason, patients would not pay more than the standard four-hourly rate.
Sandie Smith, chief executive officer for Healthwatch Cambridgeshire, has said that hospitals are “well aware” of public dissatisfaction regarding the charges.
“We are aware that people are unhappy with the car park charges at hospitals and do regularly feed this back to the hospitals themselves. However, we have not had any specific discussions with the hospitals [in Cambridgeshire] regarding the charges. Our job is to make sure that decisions are made in full knowledge of patient and public opinion, so the hospitals are taking the decision to charge knowing what public feeling is.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Should anyone have to pay to park at the hospital or should there be exemptions for staff and carers?
Write to: The Hunts Post, 30 High Street, Huntingdon, PE29 3TB.