Unions and opposition politicians have condemned the continuation of charging for parking at NHS hospitals in England, after figures indicated a new spike in the fees.
Charging staff, patients and visitors to park at hospitals generated a record £174m for health service trusts in 2016-17, according to data collected by the Press Association.
“It was extremely disappointing that the budget offered no solution whatsoever to this problem”
Using a Freedom of Information request, the Press Association approached 120 hospital trusts about their parking charges for patients, visitors and staff, of which 111 responded.
Subsequent analysis revealed that two thirds of trusts were making more than £1m a year from car parking charges and over half were charging disabled people to park at sites.
The research suggested that Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, based in the West Midlands, took the most money at over £4.8m. Meanwhile, the most expensive fee for a one-hour stay was £4 at the Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Guildford.
The Press Association research also indicated that parking fines were providing an increasing amount of revenue – up by a third to £950,000.
Hospital parking has long been a thorny issue for NHS trusts. Following a similar FOI request by the GMB union, data published last month suggested nurses were paying hundreds of pounds a year to park, sometimes as much as £1,000.
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Liberal Democrat health spokesman and former coalition government health minister Norman Lamb condemned the latest figures as “a tax on sickness”.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, took a similar view, describing paying to park at a hospital as an “unfair and unnecessary” charge that hit the poor hardest.
“It was extremely disappointing that the budget offered no solution whatsoever to this problem,” he added, before reiterating a previous election promise that a Labour government would abolish hospital car parking charges altogether.
Gerry O’Dwyer, senior employment relations adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, said parking charges on staff damaged the goodwill that hospitals ran on.
“For some nurses, especially those who work night shifts, public transport isn’t an option,” he said. “They work around the clock to care for patients and should not be over-charged for doing their jobs.”
“For some nurses, especially those who work night shifts, public transport isn’t an option”
Hospitals in urban areas have in the past defended their approach by saying that without some form of charging, hospital car parks would be filled up by shoppers.
For example, they have argued that charging means spaces are more likely to be available for those using the hospital, with revenue raised going into maintaining car parks and back into patient care. It also encourages those that can to use public transport, they have said.
The Department of Health has recently warned against hospitals setting unfair charges. But its policy leaves it up to individual trusts to set their own rates for parking. In contrast to England, hospital car parking in Scotland and Wales is usually free.
Nursing Times campaigned on the issue of parking charges in 2008-09. Our Free Parking campaign called on trusts to drop “unfair” charges for staff.