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Patients across England slam 'exorbitant' hospital parking charges

Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor

One in three hospitals in England put up the cost of parking last year, with patients and visitors objecting to the "exorbitant" prices, an investigation has found.

The study by the PA news agency showed hospitals made more than £254 million from parking in 2018/19, as patients and visitors said they felt ripped off.

For the investigation, 7,883 patients and visitors who had used a hospital car park in the last two years were surveyed, and financial data was gathered from 144 NHS trusts.

The data showed that hospitals made £254,373,068 from charging for parking in 2018/19 - up 10% on the previous year and a record high.

Overall, 47 NHS trusts increased their charges between 2017/18 and 2018/19, typically by 10%.

The survey revealed that patients and visitors often struggle to find spaces, experience a lack of disabled parking, long queues and parking meters that do not work.

Overall, 86% of those polled said parking added to the stress of a hospital visit.

One patient said: "The car parks are so busy that from 16.30 until 17.30 it can take nearly one hour to leave the hospital", while another said: "I spent over £102 to visit my wife."

Others described the charges as "a rip-off", "too expensive", "extortionate", "astronomical" and "exorbitant".

As part of their election manifesto pledges, Labour has vowed to scrap all hospital parking charges, while the Conservatives say parking will be free for those in greatest need, including the disabled, parents of sick children staying overnight, staff working night shifts and those regularly needing outpatients.

In the PA investigation, 49% of people said nobody should have to pay for parking at hospitals.

Some 46% thought visitors should have to pay, 12% said patients and 8% said hospital staff.

Of those who thought somebody else should foot the bill, half said the Government should pay, while 23% thought NHS trusts should be responsible.

When it came to problems with parking, 32% of all people surveyed said they struggled to find a space during their visit.

One in 10 could not find disabled parking, 10% were confused by parking rules and 11% could not pay in the way they wanted to.

Almost one in five people who received a parking fine said it was because their appointment overran or for some other reason beyond their control.

Many people complained about the charges and the queues to find a space.

Comments included: "I had to queue for 40 minutes to get into the car park", "I had to wait too long for space and was late for appointment" and "Difficult to estimate how long is needed. Cost is ridiculously high and length of time needed can be very varied depending on whether the department is running to time."

Overall, 126 NHS trusts provided data to PA following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Data for an extra 18 trusts was collected from figures submitted to NHS Digital as part of their annual estates and returns information collection.

Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust took the most parking revenue in 2018/19 at £6,352,676, up on the £6,285,340 the previous year.

This was followed by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (£5,876,000) and University Hospitals Of Leicester NHS Trust (£5,025,860).

Overall, trusts took £254,373,068 in 2018/19, including at least £142,958,247 from patients and visitors and £65,219,879 from staff.

This is up 10% on the £232,236,216 the year before, which included at least £124,864,444 from patients and visitors and £60,060,676 from staff.

Income from parking fines also increased by 8% in 2018/19 to £1,557,749, despite fewer trusts disclosing their income than the previous year.

Just under half (65 out of 124) trusts said their car parks were managed by a private company, with at least 23 of these private firms taking all the fines income.

Half of trusts charged for disabled parking.

Only England's hospitals routinely charge for parking - car parks are largely free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A spokeswoman for the Patients Association said: "Charges for car parking at hospitals are a charge on people who are unwell, levied on them because they are unwell. We believe that patients should not be effectively charged for being ill.

"Practical arrangements to prevent car parks being used by other motorists can and should be installed, as they are at supermarkets, hotels and so on."

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said increases in the cost of parking were frustrating, but added: "Car parks are expensive to run for the trusts that own them.

"These parking facilities must be maintained, lit well, and secure. Parking facilities must also provide good access for patients, families and staff.

"All charges by trusts for parking cover the day-to-day running of car parking at the hospital, with any surplus reinvested back into wider services for patients or improving these facilities."

She said abolishing charges could cost around £200 million per year, and trusts would have to find funding from elsewhere, which could "impact on patient care".

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "These car parking charges are a tax on the sick, their families and hard-working NHS staff.

"A Labour government will totally scrap parking charges, providing free hospital parking for patients, staff and visitors."

Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis said: "Ratcheting up parking charges isn't how cash-strapped NHS trusts should be tackling their funding problems.

"No nurse, porter or other NHS employee should be fleeced simply for going to work."

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Luciana Berger said: "Conservative cuts to health budgets have left hospitals in a desperate situation.

"Patients, visitors and NHS staff are facing ever increasing costs for parking, as hospitals struggle to cope with essential maintenance.

"Boris Johnson cannot be trusted to fix the problems in the NHS - it was his government that have made the problems worse and overseen the rise in parking costs."