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Hospital car parking charge scandal

I was flicking through a copy of my local free newspaper, the Sandwell Chronicle, the other day, and one story had me re-reading to ensure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

Last year, the 3 hospitals in the Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust – Sandwell General, City Hospital and Rowley Regis Community Hospital – brought in more than £1.5 million in car parking charges for staff and visitors. Here is how the local daily Express and Star reported it.

Now, hospital car parking charging is a particular bugbear of mine. Having spent more time than I would have liked during the past couple of years visiting various hospitals in the Birmingham and Black Country area, I have come to resent these charges vehemently. My logic is thus; I am visiting my loved one – or rushing them to A&E, in some cases – why should I be charged upwards of £2.50 for the privilege?

I also think charging staff to pay for car parking, as some do, is a bit rich. How many other places of work charge for spaces? I certainly don’t where I work.

These hospitals are by no means the only – or worst – examples, just the ones in my local area. For instance, last year the Birmingham Post reported that University Hospital (nee Walsgrave) in Coventry made £1.9 million from its parking charges.

While I understand that maintaining a car park does cost – paying for security staff, CCTV, upkeep of the land and automatic barriers etc – I doubt that it is that much.

It’s the way the costs seem to keep spiralling that irks me as well. I remember when some hospitals first started charging back in the 1990s, and then it was usually a flat rate of 50p. I didn’t have a problem with that. But now, they seem to increase annually – Sandwell & West Birmingham’s charges are going up by 20% in April – and it does tot up quickly if a loved one is having an extended stay in hospital.

For those on benefits or a pension, these charges come as even more of a whammy. Even the 8-tokens-for-£10 offers for those coming in every day still take a fair chunk of an average pensioner’s weekly budget.

The charges smack of profiteering – especially at those hospitals that have outsourced car parking to private firms – and, as ever, the poor old consumer gets hit in the pocket.

What would I do? In an ideal world, make it free. Realistically, go back to the flat rate of 50p – surely enough to cover the costs of maintaining a car park.

I’d be interested to hear others’ opinions on this…

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