The NHS is one of the greatest aspects of Britain’s society that makes us proud to be British. However, it was recently announced that NHS Trusts in England have made some £7 million more on parking charges this year, plus at least another £2 million in fines over the past four years. Hospital parking charges are a stealth tax on the sick and their carers, and UKIP agrees with the Patient Association that they are unfair and should be abolished.
England is the only part of the UK where hospitals routinely charge patients and visitors for parking. In contrast, most hospitals in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland offer free parking for cancer patients. A large number of hospitals in Wales stopped charging for car parking in 2011. In Northern Ireland parking is free for chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients and in Scotland parking is free except for at three Private Finance Initiative hospitals in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Department of Health has issued guidelines advising hospitals to offer concessions, including free or reduced charges or caps for people with disabilities such as cancer. Despite this guidance, many still face the burden of these costs. Nearly 60% of hospitals in England are still charging at least some cancer patients to use the car park and almost 10% of hospitals in England have ignored this guidance completely and continue to charge cancer patients the full price for parking.
A third of hospital trusts in England have increased their car parking charges in the last year according to figures obtained directly from NHS trusts and data submitted to NHS Digital. The NHS Digital data suggests a 15% average rise in parking charges across trusts in England between 2014/15 and 2015/16. Of the 209 hospital trusts that reported figures to NHS Digital for both 2014/15 and 2015/16, a third (69 trusts) showed an increase in their average hourly charge when calculated across three hours. Some 126 (60%) showed no change over the year while 14 (7%) showed a decrease. Almost four out of 10 (38%) NHS trusts said they also charged for disabled parking. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Press Association revealed that some NHS trusts are making more than £3m a year from car parking fees. Of more than 90 trusts that responded to the FoI request, half are making at least £1m a year. Seven NHS trusts earned more than £3m in 2014/15 from charges, a further eight made more than £2m a year while a further 33 earned more than £1m a year.
In the 21st century it wouldn’t be difficult to ensure that only those in need accessed free hospital parking to prevent misuse. If every other car park with a barrier in the country can manage it, using a token or other access system, then so can NHS trusts. Perhaps a barcode on an appointment card in addition to staff members and visitors to patients being issued a “free pass” would relieve the financial burden currently imposed. Many staff members, including trainees, are deducted £25-30 per month from their salaries; surely it is not an acceptable means of raising funds.
A large number of these car parks are now managed by private companies and I do not begrudge them charging a competitive tariff for non hospital related purposes if they are located near town centres. Visiting a hospital is a traumatic experience in its self as our main priority is the well being of our loved ones, only to discover that we are confronted with a parking charge or fine if we do not have the money readily available. These charges are nothing short of a stealth tax on our vulnerable circumstances and UKIP urgently request that the NHS Trusts in England review this sorry state of affairs.
Many hospitals say that they reinvest the money in clinical services. In effect this means that people who drive to hospital for any number of reasons, are subsidising those who come by other means. This seems an arbitrary and wholly unfair way to decide how much somebody should pay for an essential service. Additionally many patients have no choice in how they get to hospital. As well as those who live in rural areas or have to travel at unconventional times, Macmillan (which campaigns on this issue for cancer patients) has pointed out that “public transport and hospital transport are often neither adequate nor suitable for cancer patients.”
Everyone entitled to use our NHS should have fair and equal access to treatment. This is against the founding principle of our NHS. We are punishing many of the most vulnerable people in the country, not only very ill people but also their worried friends and relatives. A system in which not all patients can equally and freely access services does not seem to me to be equal or free. UKIP would meet the estimated £200 million a year cost of scrapping the charges through a clampdown on health tourism that will force foreign nationals to pay for health insurance before entering the country.
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