Hospital parking charges (HPCs) have been largely abolished in Wales and Scotland: they are however common in England and since it is left to the discretion of individual trusts, there is in effect a postcode lottery of parking charges. The question might well be asked as to why a National Health Service can afford free parking in Wales and Scotland but not in England. The consultation admits, “Inconsistency is a source of frustration for many patients and their families”.
The consultation paper says of HPC’s that, “Many are unhappy about the principle of being charged to park when using NHS services as they perceive it to conflict with the principle that NHS treatment is free at the point of delivery”. They are quite right, because it does. £180m annually is raised by these varying levies on patients and their relatives. The longer patients stay parked, the more they pay: but the time they need to be parked is not a matter of election for them, and is often unpredictable in advance leading to overpayment in many cases.
It also acknowledged that HPCs, “May deter some people from attending their outpatient appointments or some people from visiting in-patients”. The consultation admits the importance to recovery of visitors: “Regular visitors support patients’ recovery - visitors regularly help with tasks like feeding as well as providing personal support”. If deterrence has reached such levels then it has to that degree undermined the purpose of the NHS.
While we would want commuters or those unconnected with the hospital to pay high charges, we find it curious that the consultation regards it as not feasible for there to be no charges, for any patient or visitor. The reason given is, “Operation of the scheme to identify and charge external users only would be complex and costly”. We do not believe that a high tech, low cost solution could not be found. Strangely, the consultation paper is prepared to contemplate free parking for in-patients but does not explain how this would avoid the administrative costs identified as being impossible to screen out external users (and other categories). The other options the paper is prepared to consider are improved adherence to guidelines or capping the charges. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Department of Health is prepared to forgo HPCs as a levy on patients and their families only grudgingly and partially. The consultation response form confines itself to these limited options.
Based on our extensive research the Saga Manifesto for the 2010 Election read: “We also believe that hospital parking charges are a regressive tax on the sick and the elderly, who are heavy users of NHS hospitals; and, that England should follow the lead of Scotland and Wales and abolish hospital parking charges. A recent Saga survey of 14,178 people aged over 50 showed 85% support the abolition of hospital parking charges in England - with women more likely to support abolition than men.”
Therefore, our formal response to the hospital parking charges consultation is that we believe that hospital parking charges for ought to be abolished for all hospital patients and visitors.
For more information please contact the Saga Press Office on 01303 771529.