NHS car park charges – what’s the real issue?

I was on @daybreak TV this morning at 7.15am talking about NHS car parking charges. It’s reoccurring subject and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS FT and the Royal Free Hospital NHS FT were both ‘named and shamed’ as the worst offenders for high charges. Patients were interviewed who had racked up £100’s of pounds in parking costs and viewers tweeted in that even as staff, they had to pay. (It’s worth saying that not everyone is bothered by this, 33% of people don’t have access to a car.)

But are parking charges just a wheeze by hospitals to get more money? Well, yes actually! Hospital car parks do actually take money to run, and the funding can either come from the NHS budget or from our pockets. It’s reckoned that running hospital car parks (maintenance, security) costs the NHS in England £100m a year, so that’s a lot of nurse’s salaries we’d lose if we weren’t paying to park.

The real issue twofold: firstly that the public, on the whole, don’t know this. Where are the signs telling us what the parking fee covers? Where is the information telling us how much was raised from parking last year, how much it cost to run and what the difference was spent on? Transparency is required to build trust and we think hospitals should display this information. That said, some charges are very high and some hospitals don’t give any concessions to people who have to visit frequently (many do have schemes to help those who require frequent visits or who have just been bereaved). It’s up to us to challenge on both of these – send off a FOI to your local hospital asking the questions above – and see if there is a volunteer’s scheme to help with transport such as CareCars in Southend University Hospital NHS FT.

The other issue is that car parking charges are just one way of hospitals raising money – they are desperately looking at ways to bring in more cash such as

  • Private fertility treatment
  • Cosmetic procedures
  • Hotel style rooms for NHS patients
  • Private patients
  • Biomedical research
  • Facility hire

The financial reality of NHS is that there is a shortfall in funding which is getting worse and worse – by 2021 it is estimated that we will need another £22Bn minimum to run services as they are now. Politicians will admit this – yet they won’t admit that the only answer is to review what the NHS is here for and the genuine limits of the service. Increasing numbers of healthcare leaders are publicly  recognising the crisis (e.g. Medical Director of NHS London Andy Mitchell and David Bennett, CEO of Monitor) but we wait with bated breath for some candour from our politicians. This is the real issue; in the meantime the public feel they are being fleeced.

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Director of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and now also a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technology for stress management in the workplace. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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