Hospital parking fees are a stealth tax on the sick. They must be scrapped
The sick and the vulnerable are disproportionately hit by hospital parking fees. My Bill would bring an end to this clear injustice, writes Robert Halfon
On Friday 11 May, my Hospital Car Parking (Abolition) Bill will have its Second Reading. I have been campaigning for an end to hospital car parking charges since 2014, after finding out that some hospitals were charging visitors and patients up to £500 a week to park. We cannot say in good faith that the NHS is free at the point of access if people with cars face extortionate and unfair parking fees to get to their hospital appointments or to visit sick relatives.
The charges are not only problematic for patients and their visitors but for our hardworking NHS staff. Much of the hospital workforce cannot rely on public transport to get to work, particularly when working unsociable hours, but almost a third of hospitals still charge staff up to £80 a week to park.
The sick and the vulnerable are disproportionately hit by hospital parking fees. This clear injustice is backed up by several major national charities. CLIC Sargent found that some families are spending £50 a week on parking when their child is having treatment. Bliss has shown that some parents have to pay over £250 if their premature baby stays in the neonatal unit for eight weeks. I was appalled to find during my own research that almost half of hospitals offer no concessions for disabled drivers, even though blue badge holders have no choice but to park nearby.
The government released guidance in 2014, making it clear that “concessions, including free or reduced charges or caps, should be available for staff working unsociable shifts, blue badge holders and visitors of gravely ill relatives”. Despite the guidance, there has been little improvement. Drivers still pay on average of £1.98 for a one-hour stay and a week-long visit will cost over £50.
What’s more is that a postcode lottery on car parking charges still exists. In fact, one hospital in Surrey charges £4 for an hour of parking – despite not charging anything at all before the guidance was released.
None of the government’s guidance is mandatory and, clearly, it has fallen on deaf ears. That’s where this Bill comes in. It will force NHS Trusts in England to scrap their parking charges and pay attention to the national charities and motoring organisations, Members from across the House and our constituents, who clearly support an end to the charges. The Bill will give peace of mind to patients and visitors when they need it most and support our hard-working doctors, nurses and other NHS staff who are struggling with the cost of living.
Most Welsh and Scottish NHS hospitals offer free parking. In fact, free parking at NHS hospitals in Scotland helped patients save over £25 million from 2008 to 2015. Surely that means it’s possible for English hospitals to do the same – and we can find the money to do so.
On the assumption that free hospital car parking would cost £200 million a year, a number of funding options should be considered. Hospitals have immense purchasing power. Lord Carter found that better procurement could bring in more than £1 billion to the NHS. The Department of Health financial accounts for 2016-17 show that it underspent its revenue budget by £560 million, which is about 0.5% of the total budget. Surely some of that money could go towards covering the parking costs for patients and staff?
It is time to end the hospital car parking rip-off once and for all. These parking charges are the bane of people’s lives. No one goes to hospital out of choice; they go because they must. No one chooses to be ill, and we rely on our doctors and nurses to look after us.
If the government supports my Hospital Car Parking (Abolition) Bill on 11 May, this stealth tax on the sick will be scrapped once and for all.