As of the start of this month, “unfair” car parking charges have been completely scrapped at all NHS hospitals in Wales, sparking calls for similar moves in England and Northern Ireland.
The promise to ban fares for hospital patients, staff and visitors was first made by the Welsh government 10 years ago but was delayed by long-running contracts with parking firms.
“Car parking charges are often an unfair expense on people frequently attending NHS hospitals”
Glangwili and Prince Philip hospitals, both run by Hywel Dda University Health Board, were the last to ditch car parking charges. The former charging arrangements came to an end on 31 August.
The hospitals are planning to use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to manage parking and avoid abuse of the system.
Joe Teape, director of operations and deputy chief executive at Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “Parking has long been an issue at our hospital sites and I’d firstly like to acknowledge the frustrations that this has caused our staff, patients and visitors.”
He added: “We’re engaging with staff and the public to ensure a fairer deal for everyone, by protecting designated patient and visitor car parks and improving access for emergency vehicles.”
“We will continue to work with the Staff Partnership Forum in relation to any potential alterations to staff parking, and further updates will be communicated soon,” he said.
The Welsh government has welcomed the development. A spokesman said: “Car parking charges are often an unfair expense on people frequently attending NHS hospitals, whether they are patients, staff or visitors. Free parking provides a fairer and more consistent approach to parking policy.”
Hospital car parking is free in most of Scotland. GMB, which represents NHS staff and has campaigned on the issue, is now urging leaders in England and Northern Ireland to follow suit and bin fares for staff, patients and visitors.
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Rehana Azam, the union’s national secretary, said: “Our NHS members have faced real terms pay cut for almost a decade – and to expect them to fork out for sky-high car parking is an added kick in the teeth.”
She added: “Whether you are a visitor of someone who is unwell or working flat out to care for patients, free car parking would mean one less thing for people to worry about.”
“Free car parking would mean one less thing for people to worry about”
Rachel Power, chief executive of the charity Patients Association, branded car parking fares “undesirable”, but said any new hospital funding should be prioritised for improving care.
She said: “Charges for car parking at hospitals are a charge on people who are unwell, levied on them because they are unwell. We believe that patients should not be effectively charged for being ill.”
“However, parking charges currently generate revenue for hospitals, at a time when their finances are under immense pressure and the quality of care for patients is falling,” she said.
Ms Power added: “The top priority for any new NHS funding should be patient care. At a time when patients are receiving undignified and unsafe care on hospital corridors, car parking charges are not the top priority – undesirable though they may be.”