Car parking at most Welsh hospitals will be free from next month, it’s been announced.
The Welsh Assembly government’s Health Minister Edwina Hart has confirmed the move, the first of its kind in the UK, which will see charges scrapped or reduced.
NHS trusts which do not have contracts with private companies will stop charging patients, visitors and staff from April 1 – the same date free prescriptions started in Wales last year. Those with private car parking contracts will reduce charges until the contracts expire.
Commuters and shoppers
The initiative has been welcomed by groups representing nurses and patients, but some fear free car parking spaces could be abused by commuters and shoppers.
Mrs Hart said: ‘Car parking charges fall heavily on people frequently attending NHS hospitals, whether they are patients, staff or visitors.
‘They are at best an inconvenience and at worst an unfair expense. Over time, all NHS patients, visitors and those who care for them will not have the expense or inconvenience of charges.
‘By the end of the current assembly term, the vast majority of NHS sites will have free parking for all.’
Cath Lindley, general manager for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales, said: ‘Macmillan Cancer Support would wholeheartedly welcome this move. Cancer patients have long been calling for parking costs to be scrapped.
‘On average, cancer patients make 60 trips to hospital from diagnosis to treatment to follow-up, and as a result they are hit particularly hard, both financially and emotionally, by travelling costs and unfair parking charges.
‘These reforms would go some way towards reducing the financial burden that can come with a cancer diagnosis.’
The British Medical Association (BMA) said it was ‘delighted’ about the announcement but warned that free car parking spaces at hospitals could be abused.
Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh Secretary of the BMA, said: ‘The BMA has campaigned on this issue for some time and believe that it unfairly penalised patients.
‘It is, however, important that parking facilities are maintained and secured for the benefit of those that properly use our hospital services and are not otherwise abused, and that is the legitimate responsibility for trusts themselves.’
Almost £5.4 million was collected by NHS Trusts in Wales from hospital car parking from 2006-7. The additional costs that NHS trusts will now face are to be covered by annual NHS funding allocations.
About half of all hospital car parking spaces in Wales are currently free, and nine trusts have schemes in place to reduce charges for frequent visitors and long-term patients. Seven trusts use private contractors to manage car parking at 11 hospitals.
By 2011, only four hospitals in Wales out of a total of 130 are expected to still be charging for parking because they have long-term contracts in place.
They include the biggest hospital in Wales – the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff. The other sites are Neath Port Talbot Hospital, West Wales General in Carmarthen and Prince Philip Hospital, Llanelli.
The Welsh NHS Confederation said the move would increase financial pressures for cash-strapped NHS trusts.
The trusts have been told to provide plans of how they will cope with reduced income, additional cost, potential increases in demand for parking, promotion of green transport, and the potential use of hospital car parking by commuters and shoppers by May 1.
Those that have commercial contracts in place will have to introduce schemes to reduce the cost of parking by June 1, and they will stay in place until the end of the contract.
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