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Parking charges can be a tax on the sick

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One of the most controversial issues within the NHS affecting staff and patients alike surely has to be the sharp rise in hospital car-parking fees.

The health service in England earned nearly £12m from car parking charges last year.

So, where does this revenue go? NHS trusts say that, after deducting the costs of providing and maintaining car parks, they plough the excess monies back into patient care.

All fine and good but this can be seen as morally wrong if the money is being used to subsidise services funded by the taxpayer in the first place.

From 2011, patients, staff and visitors will be able to park free at almost every NHS hospital in Wales and Scotland. A temporary cap of £3 a day on parking charges has been in place since January this year in these countries. There are no plans for such a scheme in England.

Trusts may be seen as hitting patients, staff and relatives with high parking charges where they have no choice but to pay seemingly extortionate rates to go to work, receive treatment or visit loved ones.

Is it wrong, though, not to expect individuals to pay to park when they have to pay to park virtually everywhere else?

Perhaps the answers lie in NHS trusts providing, in collaboration with local authorities, sustainable public transport, or making charges proportionate and affordable for those who have no alternative but to drive.

Certainly, hospitals that do not waive or reduce charges for regular visitors attending for therapies, such as dialysis or chemotherapy, can be seen as possibly levying a tax on the sick and penalising the vulnerable.

However, with limited space to park at many hospitals, subsidising parking for everyone may not be the right direction to go in.

Steven Pack is a community psychiatric nurse at Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Want to read more Listen Up? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page.

Click here to sign NT's petition against car parking charges

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