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A fairer hospital parking system
Following guidelines from the Department of Health in August, hospitals have been told to provide free, reduced, or capped parking charges to ‘priority groups.’ These include visitors with relatives who are seriously ill or are in hospital for a long time and frequent outpatient visitors. People with disabilities, including those that have temporary disabilities, should also qualify for reduced rates.
Hospital parking policies are set by individual NHS trusts, and the guidance says that charges should be reasonable for the area.
Some hospital staff, for example, those working shifts and unable to get public transport, should have slashed rates and other concessions should be considered locally for staff, such as for volunteers or staff who car-share.
Priority for staff parking should be based on need, such as staff whose daily duties require them to travel by car. Such staff might also include nurses or therapists who visit patients at home. The guidance also suggests that routine travel between hospital sites might more sensibly be managed by providing internal transport.
PAY FOR THE TIME USED
The Department for Health’s guidelines recommend hospitals should use pay-on-exit or similar schemes so car park users pay only for the time they use in a hospital car park. Additional charges should only be imposed where reasonable and should be waived when overstaying is beyond the driver’s control, such as when treatment takes longer than planned, or when staff are required to work beyond their scheduled shift.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, said: “Patients and families shouldn’t have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges. These clear ground rules set out our expectations and will help the public hold the NHS to account for unfair charges or practices.”
KEEP EVERYONE INFORMED
The guidelines say that NHS trusts should make their parking policies and principles clear. Details of charges, concessions and additional charges should be well publicised including at car park entrances, wherever payment is made and inside the hospital. They should also be included on the hospital website and on patient letters and forms, where appropriate.
Information that NHS trusts should publish includes their parking policy; their implementation of the NHS car parking principles; financial information relating to their car parking; and summarised complaint information on car parking and actions taken in response.
The Department of Health guidance has also made it clear trusts were responsible for the actions of private car parking contractors running facilities on their behalf. It said that NHS organisations should act against rogue contractors in line with the relevant codes of practice where applicable, and that contracts should not be let on any basis that incentivises additional charges, such as ‘income from parking charge notices only’.
There are two trade associations – the British Parking Association and the Independent Parking Committee, which makes sure their members follow a code of conduct and provides an appeals service for motorists. The guidelines say that NHS organisations should consider imposing a requirement for contractors to be members of such an association.
Macmillan Cancer Support conducted research into the full cost of hospital parking in England, concluding that “cancer patients face a lottery in the price of hospital parking and the availability of discounts,” with some hospitals offering completely free parking, while others charge anything from £2 to £24 a day. It found that the average daily cost of using a hospital car park is £7.66.
The research found that despite existing government guidance, 59 per cent of hospitals in England are still charging at least some cancer patients to use the car park, and almost 10 per cent of hospitals in England have ignored government guidance completely and continue to charge cancer patients the full price for parking.
Duleep Allirajah, head of policy at the Macmillan, explained the problem: “The core principle of the NHS is to provide free healthcare for all at the point of access. But sadly some cancer patients in England are paying extortionate hospital car parking charges in order to access treatment for a life‑threatening illness.
“Cancer patients receiving vital treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy will often need to make frequent trips to hospital and unaffordable charges are leaving many out of pocket.”
Welcoming the Department for Health’s guidance, Allirajah went on to say: “Macmillan Cancer Support is pleased the Government has recognised this as a problem and has issued new guidelines advising hospitals to offer concessions, including free or reduced charges or caps for people with disabilities such as cancer.
“Hospitals must not ignore Government guidance and commit to implementing the guidelines as a matter of urgency so that cancer patients do not continue to pay unfair hospital parking charges.”
A spokesperson from the watchdog Healthwatch England, said that said: “The key will be making sure the public are aware of the changes so that they can challenge the system when they feel they are facing unfair charges.
“The new rules will hopefully offer much‑needed support for those who have to visit hospitals regularly, either for treatment or in support of a loved one receiving care.”