Hospital car parking charges need reform

Today’s blog returns to an old hobby-horse of mine: hospital car parking charges.

This issue is back on my radar again as I will be making regular hospital visits for the next few months (my wife is pregnant) and was stung for more than £2 for an hour’s parking earlier this week.

Some of you may remember a recent blog where I highlighted/ranted at what I saw to be the scandal of hospital car parking charges for visitors and patients (Hospital car parking charge scandal) and how this should be ended. Pleasingly, it seems that I’m not the only one that thinks this way: consumer watchdog Which? has now called for charges to be revamped.

As reported by the BBC today, Which? has published a list of the best and worst performing hospitals in terms of clamping and fining car park users (or abusers, depending on your viewpoint). The worst were Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust (most clampings) and Leeds General Infirmary (biggest finer). Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust charged the most at £4 – £4!! – for 2 hours.

The fines and clamping system highlights another issue I have with car park charging; having to be aware of how long you’ve got left on your ticket.

Again, I’ve experienced this one; having recently bought a ticket for 3 hours parking (which I assumed when I purchased it was more than enough) I had to dash out of a waiting room to extend my parking stay. I shouldn’t be thinking about a parking meter when being given important information about my unborn child.

Hospitals visits can be stressful enough without having to worry about the threat of extra charges, fines or even clamping, especially when it is usually through no fault of your own; we all know how hospital appointments can – and often do – run behind schedule.

Perhaps the worst bit is that there is little sign of this ending. While Labour announced plans last year to scrap charges for in-patients, their families and friends within 3 years, the new coalition government has made no such commitment. And with budgets cuts imminent, they are a useful moneyspinner for cash-strapped PCTs that they will not give up voluntarily.

Which? has called for a ban on clamping and towing, as well as “fairer” charging systems such as allowing patients to pay on departure rather than arrival – although some already do this, to be fair – or reimbursing patients for additional parking fees when appointments are delayed.

All good points, and hopefully, given the clout that Which? has, someone in power will listen.

But for me, it doesn’t go far enough; as I’ve said before, I’m not against charging per se, but it does seem ridiculous to pay more than £2 for an hour, given the costs of upkeep of a car park (not that much) and the number of people who pass through one on any given day (lots).

Surely a flat rate of, say, 50p to park would be fairer? After all, unless my memory is deceiving me, it’s not all that long since that was roughly the cost of parking at many hospitals. That would cut out the stress of the charging, but also still cover the costs of running it – car parks should not be there to make money out of people who have no option but to go there.

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Filed under health care, Social care funding

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