INCREASED charges for car parking at Hinchingbrooke Hospital have sparked outrage among some patients and visitors, who feel they are being punished for the hospital s debts. Prices at the Huntingdon hospital were increased on Monday, pushing the minimum

Monika Hill-Lines

INCREASED charges for car parking at Hinchingbrooke Hospital have sparked outrage among some patients and visitors, who feel they are being punished for the hospital's debts.

Prices at the Huntingdon hospital were increased on Monday, pushing the minimum fee up from £2 to £2.50, and adding £2 to the maximum stay of 24 hours - now a hefty £8.

The hospital has said the extra revenue generated by the fee increases - expected to be about £100,000 - will be used to help Hinchingbrooke, which has predicted debts of about £30million.

Taking into account the increased charges, the hospital is set to receive an annual income of about £600,000 a year from parking fees.

George Berryman

Brian Gibbs, the hospital's director of facilities, said the prices would have risen despite the hospital's debt.

He told The Hunts Post: "The car parking money is used to support the hospital and the income will help reduce the financial position that the trust is in."

The move - which also adds £1 to the £4 fee to park for between three and five hours - is the first time in two years parking charges have increased at the hospital.

"Price increases have generally taken place in two-year cycles, and we use similar hospitals like Bedford and Kettering as a benchmark for our charges and we believe we offer value for money," added Mr Gibbs.

Jill Currington and husband Tony

However, not everyone is convinced the increase is a good thing.

Angela Owen-Smith, chairman of the Patient and Public Involvement Forum for Hinchingbrooke Hospital, said: "We are concerned about the price increase, but it is Government policy to charge for hospital parking.

"The charges at Hinchingbrooke are in line with car park charges in other hospitals."

Some members of staff have also been contacting The Hunts Post with their concerns about the added impact on poorer patients - although discounts would be available for patients on benefits and visitors of long-term patients.

Emma Isaac

And on Monday motorists facing the new charges hit out at the policy that encourages hospitals to find revenue from car parks - and felt the minimum fee was just too high.

Brian and Christine Matthews, a retired couple from Eaton Socon, said: "It is ridiculous that I should have to pay more than £2 when I am only going to be in the hospital for about five minutes. They ought to change it so that people who are only staying for an hour or less can pay just £1."

Joyce Stone, a housewife from St Neots, added: "It is disgusting I do not think there should be charges for hospital parking especially when you are visiting someone who is ill."

A hospital spokesman said in the year ending March 2007 the hospital would have made over £500,000 from parking charges. Under the new charges it is predicted the hospital will make nearly £600,000 income by March 2008.

All the money goes towards the hospital apart from £100,000, which is used to pay for car parking maintenance and car parking staff.

* The consultation document into the future of services at Hinchingbrooke Hospital is due to be launched next week. It is expected to recommend retaining the vast majority of services at the hospital, including maternity - the outcome the district has been campaigning for.

On Friday, prior to the increase in charges, Hunts Post reporter Natalie Bowyer asked motorists what they thought of the new fees.

Monika Hill-Lines, 33, full-time mum from Grafham said: "I already think it costs too much to park in the hospital car park. I'm only going to be an hour but I have to pay £2, which I think is already too much."

Robert Clarke, 45, managing director and Amanda Clarke, company secretary, 43, both from Little Paxton, said: "They are increasing the parking charges to use the car parking money to pay for revenue. It is utterly wrong and Huntingdonshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council should step in and put a stop to it. It is having a huge impact on lots of people who shouldn't have to pay such high parking charges when they come to visit loved ones who are ill or even dying in hospital. It is not reasonable at all. It is an outrage."

George Berryman, 68, a retired factory supervisor from Huntingdon, said: "I think the cost of parking here is ridiculous already as I had to pay £2 and I was only here for half an hour."

Jill Currington, 67, a retired retail worker, and husband Tony, 64, a retired transport worker, both from St Ives, said: "The charges are ridiculous already, I'm only going to be five or 10 minutes but I have to pay £2. It's just too steep."

Emma Isaac, 30, teacher from St Neots said: "It is too high enough already we pay £2 for three hours but most people only stay for about an hour or less.