A survey by Macmillan Cancer Support revealed that 45% of patients are stressed or worried about the cost of parking at hospital.
In Scotland car parking charges was abolished in hospitals in 2008, but does apply at some with existing contracts. In Wales there are only two health Boards who have car parks that still charge. The most you would pay in Northern Ireland for a 24 hour stay is £11 but the situation in England is very different.
“Some of the charges at the moment are far beyond what anyone should reasonably be asked to pay in a service that is supposed to be free at the point of use. We’re really concerned that’s having a financial impact on both the patients and the relatives that have to visit patients, loved ones, day after day after day – and who are being charged incredible amounts to do so.” says Michael Watson form the Patients Association.
We contacted 190 Hospital Trusts and Health Boards across the UK and of the 152 who responded we found that 129 charge for parking.
The highest hourly charge was Chelsea and Westminster Hospital at £3.50 for the first hour.
The lowest was in Totnes Hospital in Devon – where it’s 40p for the first hour.
If you have to stay overnight and park for 24 hours, you could pay as little as £1.50 in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.
Whereas in London you could pay a staggering £33 at Kings College, or £35 at Chelsea and Westminster.
But as patients are spending money hospitals are saving money by treating an increasing number of people as outpatients.
Research by Macmillan Cancer Support found that over a 6 week course of radiotherapy they could be saving up to £6,000 if the patients don’t stay at the hospital overnight.
Carol Stockman is one such patient who requires regular treatment.
She has been disabled since she was 8 months old and relies on being able to take the car to her hospital appointments and to receive treatment.
‘I can’t just leap on a bus like a lot of people can so I do have to take the car, and sometimes you’re there for a long time, depending on the treatment that you’re having. Parking fees can mount up. There’s that side of things as well as the anxiety of the actual visit to the hospital.’
Michael Watson of the Patients Association says: “at a time when people are really feeling the pinch anyway, this additional financial burden makes it all the bit harder. What really concerns us at the moment is the post code lottery that exists in parking if you live, particularly in a metropolitan area like London, Manchester, or Liverpool, you’re likely to pay more than if you’re in other areas. What we’d like to see the Government do is step in and define what a reasonable charge is for parking – so that patients in certain areas aren’t paying extortionate fees.”
But so far the government has done relatively little to help patients in England.
In many areas fees are also going up.
According to the results of our Freedom of Information request, in the last two years around 50 hospitals trusts have increased their parking charges.
“What we know is, and what some patients tell us, is that some hospitals haven’t followed the guidance and are still charging cancer patients. We’d like hospitals to actually take this seriously and comply with the guidance, and we want the government to look at how we can encourage compliance with the guidance.” says a spokesperson from MacMillan.
Carol Stockman agrees. Her hospital - West Middlesex - used to offer free parking to the disabled.
This stopped several years ago - and she’s been paying ever since.
Some hospitals do offer concessions to people with long-term conditions. But recent research shows that almost 60% of patients are still paying the full price.
The Department of Health says,
Patients who need to go to hospital often or for long periods of time have a fundamental right to fair and appropriate car parking concessions, and we expect hospital trusts to provide them.
“NHS organisations set their own car parking policies and should work with their local communities to set them fairly and appropriately.
A spokesperson for West Middlesex University Hospital says,
West Middlesex University Hospital is fortunate to have high quality patient car parking facilities and excellent public transport links. As part of our Travel Plan and carbon reduction strategy we encourage staff, patients and visitors to use environmentally friendly means of getting to the hospital wherever possible and we actively support them in doing so.
Over the past few years we have successfully worked with Transport for London to bring a number of bus routes directly into the hospital. All these buses are accessible for wheelchair users and stop right outside the front entrance to the hospital.
In line with most other NHS hospitals in England, we do make a charge for patients, visitors and staff to use our car parking facilities. This money is used to maintain and improve the car parks and without it we would need to use other funding, which is currently used for patient care. We regularly review the cost of parking and are confident that the current tariff* offers value for money at a maximum rate of £1.40 per hour. In addition we have a concessionary parking scheme available in the following circumstances:
• Patients attending the hospital for six days or more per month as an outpatient
• For a carer to an inpatient having attended the hospital for a minimum of five consecutive days
• Have attended for a minimum of two days if you are the carer of a patient in the Children’s ward or Special Care Baby Unit
Patients, who receive certain benefits, may be able to claim back some or all of their travel costs via the Government’s ‘Help with health costs’ scheme.
Both schemes are advertised on our website, in patient leaflets and we encourage staff to highlight these to their patients.
A spokesperson for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Trust says,
Chelsea and Westminster Hospital has frozen its car parking charges for patients and visitors for the past five years.
The car park is not run as a commercial operation. Revenue from car parking fees goes directly to support the work of the hospital and patient care.
Disabled parking is available free of charge to drivers displaying a valid disabled driver’s permit and discretionary exemptions and concessions are also available for the following groups:
• Parents and family of patients being treated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Burns Unit
• Patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer
• Emergency arrivals to the A&E Department
• Parents/visitors of children who are inpatients
• Bereaved relatives
A spokesperson for Kings College Hospital says,
We are committed to offering affordable car parking to our patients, relatives and staff. At the same time, we have to ensure we provide a fully maintained and operational car park, that is safe and secure 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
We haven’t increased our car parking fees for King’s patients for nearly ten years. The car park is run by the hospital, rather than a private company or contractor. This means that all income from car parking is used to maintain and improve facilities, as well as the provision of security staff, lighting, and state of the art CCTV equipment.
Providing a safe environment for our staff and patients is an absolute priority for King’s. This includes during the night, as staff such as nurses often start and finish shifts at irregular hours.
In some circumstances, we are able to offer reduced car parking fees. However, these decisions are made on a discretionary basis, rather than being made available for specific groups of patients.
A spokesperson for Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust says,
A company manages the car park on the Broadgreen Healthpark site, which serves the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospitals NHS Trust, Mersey Care, Liverpool Community Health and Liverpool Heart and Chest NHS FT. As the car park contract is managed by the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospitals, parking charges are not within our control and we do not receive any income from this.
We do make available a number of concessionary parking tickets for relatives who are at the hospital over a long period of time.
A spokesperson for Liverpool Broadgreen hospital says,
Car parking at Broadgreen Hospital is managed by a private company who retain the money generated by car parking fees.
On a discretionary basis the Trust does provide free parking to some patients with serious chronic conditions, each case is dependant on the patient’s individual circumstances.”
Hywel Dda health Board says,
Our health board has an existing contract for parking provision at two out of our four main hospitals and we are legally bound to honour this. We have been able to negotiate parking fees to a minimum and our charges are amongst the lowest in the country."
Cardiff and Vale Health University Board says,
The health board and its staff are committed to making visiting our sites as easy and as comfortable as possible. We provide 2,360 free car parking spaces across all of our sites, apart from the University Hospital of Wales.
Parking on that site is subject to an historical private finance initiative which built two new car parks for the hospital. The agreement is due to expire in 2018 when the health board expects to be able to offer patients free parking at UHW.
“Until then we will continue working with staff and patients and the company on schemes to support them when they have to come to the hospital, such as discounted parking for patients with long term conditions which costs from £2 per 24 hours. We have also been able to agree a freeze on the cost of parking at UHW which will be in place until the agreement with the company expires.
As well as working on improving parking at UHW the health board is also committed to developing other routes into the hospital such as park and ride and car sharing alternatives as part of its wider transport plan.
Birmingham Women’s NHS Foundation Trust says,
A private company manages visitor, patient and staff car parking on the Queen Elizabeth Campus for three NHS trusts - University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust and Birmingham Women’s NHS Foundation Trust.
Parking charges apply across the whole campus and these charges are in line with many hospitals across the region. Allowances are made for regular visitors and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has a number of passes to enable long term visitors to park for free. Disabled card holders can also park for free in designated spaces which are located close to the main entrance of the hospital and in the closest car park where the entire ground floor is dedicated to disabled parking
A free shuttle bus operates around the campus to connect the hospitals with the train station and bus stops in order to make access to public transport easier. University rail station is five minutes walk from each of three trusts located on the campus. We are also working closely with National Express to see how we can improve bus services to the site.
Income generated by the private company enables the continued maintenance and improvements to site parking including security and lighting.
The majority of Birmingham Women’s patients attend the site as outpatients because of the nature of the care provided for Maternity, Gynaecology and Genetics services. Typically visits are for appointments and day case procedures based on best clinical practice.
The site has recently been awarded three more "Park Mark" awards for three of the newest car parks and this is in addition to the 13 awards already in place for the established car parks.
Park Marks are awarded in conjunction with the Police and recognise those car parks with low crime levels, good, CCTV, lighting, maintenance, and foot patrols.”