This is a kind of ‘victory’; a recognition that car park charges at hospitals are a tax on staff, patients and their visitors. The only fair system is rationing spaces on need and using revenues from car parking to help those using public transport get to hospital.
BBC News 23 August 2014
Hospital car parking guidance to reduce some charges
Hospitals in England have been told to cut the cost of parking for certain groups under new government guidelines.
Ministers said relatives of people who were seriously ill or had to stay in hospital for a long time should be given free parking or reduced charges.
Concessions should also be offered to people with disabilities and NHS staff whose shift patterns meant they could not use public transport, they said.
Labour accused the coalition of dropping plans to scrap the charges.
Hospital parking policies are set by individual NHS trusts.
The Department of Health guidance made it clear trusts were responsible for the actions of private car parking contractors running facilities on their behalf.
The guidelines also recommended hospitals should use "pay-on-exit" schemes so motorists pay only for the time they use in a hospital car park.
And they say trusts should waive fines if a visitor or patient overstays through no fault of their own, for example because treatment took longer than planned, or when staff have to work beyond their scheduled shift.
“Hospital parking has become a stealth tax on the vulnerable”
Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Patients and families shouldn't have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges.
"These clear ground rules set out our expectations, and will help the public hold the NHS to account for unfair charges or practices."
Mr Hunt had come under pressure from Conservative backbenchers to put an end to "rip-off" costs.
As part of that campaign, Harlow MP Robert Halfon sent Freedom of Information requests to almost 400 hospitals in England. The data he collected shows big differences in average costs across the country.
London had the highest charges, with an average of £20 a day and more than £130 a week.
The lowest charges were in the East Midlands, where parking costs were £3.50 per day and £11 per week.
Average patient and visitor parking charges in England
Per hour Per day Per week
Source: Freedom of Information requests compiled by Robert Halfon MP
East of England £2 £8.50 £25
East Midlands £1 £3.50 £11
London £2 £20 £131.50
North East £1 £3.50 £20.50
North West £2 £5.50 £19
South East £2 £9.50 £29
West Midlands £2 £6.50 £22.50
Yorkshire £1 £4.50 £29
Mr Halfon described the announcement as a "massive step forward" but said he wanted to see charges scrapped altogether, at a cost of £200m.
"Hospital parking has become a stealth tax on the vulnerable," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"The stories that we've had of people not being able to use the machines so they haven't been able to see their dying relatives is quite horrific and we have to make a change."
Ben Ruth, who received two parking tickets as he visited his dying father in the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, said the experience left him feeling "sickened".
"The second one was stuck on the windscreen when I left the hospital ward just after my father passed away," he said.
"I've rarely felt such rage as I felt right then. After the exceptional kindness of the medical staff in my father's ward, I felt grievously assaulted."
Macmillan Cancer Support said some patients were paying "extortionate" charges "in order to access treatment for a life-threatening illness".
Welcoming Mr Hunt's announcement, Duleep Allirajah - head of policy at the charity - urged hospitals not to ignore the guidance.
"Hospitals must... commit to implementing the guidelines as a matter of urgency so that cancer patients do not continue to pay unfair hospital parking charges," he said.
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