Newly released figures show that NHS hospitals across the UK made record profits this year from its car parks, reporting that patients, visitors and staff paid a total of £174 million in 2016/2017. This is an increase of 6% from the previous year, and the data shows that two thirds of hospitals were making over £1 million a year. To add to this, more than half of NHS hospitals are now charging for disabled parking on site.
The NHS has defended the profits, claiming that all the money raised went towards providing an adequate level of care to patients. However opposition groups are outraged; with the Liberal Democrat party labeling the parking charges as “tax on sickness” and Labour saying they are unfair and that they need to be stopped.
The majority of hospitals in Scotland and Wales still provide free parking, but of the 40 trusts in England that took part in the research, parking penalties made close to £1 million last year. It’s also been reported that some had paid private parking companies to run car parks on their behalf, costing them hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the current situation is not acceptable. “For patients, parking charges amount to an extra charge for being ill,” she said. “The increase in the number of trusts who are charging for disabled parking is particularly concerning. Patients who require disabled parking may have little choice but to access their care by car, and may need to do so often. Targeting them in this way feels rather cynical.”
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “Hospital parking charges are an entirely unfair and unnecessary burden, which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people using our health service.
“Even Jeremy Hunt has described this outrageous practice as a ‘stealth tax’, and yet Tory underfunding of our NHS has resulted in hospitals and private companies extracting record fees from patients and staff. Labour will abolish car parking charges and scrap this needless strain on already worried families.”
The Lib Dem health spokesman, Norman Lamb, said: “The vast sums of money that hospitals are making from parking charges reveal the hidden cost of healthcare faced by many patients and their families. All hospitals should be following the national guidelines to make sure that patients, relatives, and NHS staff are not unfairly penalised.”
Among the most expensive hospitals to park are The Heart of England NHS, who made close to £5 million last year alone and Royal Surrey County hospital who charge £4 an hour to visitors and patients. That equates to £32 for an 8 hour visit, and it’s argued that it’s completely unacceptable to expect patients who require longer visits to pay this level of fees.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Patients and families should not have to deal with the added stress of complex and unfair parking charges. NHS organisations are locally responsible for the methods used to charge, and we want to see them coming up with flexible options that put patients and their families first.”