Free parking at many hospitals in Wales began yesterday.
About 120 of Wales’s 130 hospitals were due to scrap parking fees yesterday. Patients, staff and visitors will only have to pay at four sites by May 2011.
The scheme was introduced by the Welsh Assembly Government a year after it scrapped prescription charges. They rose by 25p to £7.10 in England yesterday.
Welsh Health Minister Edwina Hart said the move marked the start of a ‘fairer and more consistent policy for hospitals across Wales’.
She added:’Over time, all NHS patients, visitors and those who care for them will not have the expense or inconvenience of charges.’
Welsh NHS trusts collected £5.4 million from car parks in 2006/07.
Free parking row
Free parking caused a row between ministers in Cardiff and Westminster when the Assembly Government revealed its plans last month.
Department of Health minister Ben Bradshaw said the money would be better spent on patient care, claiming Welsh people waited ‘much longer’ for treatment.
The Assembly Government says waiting time comparisons cannot be made because its figures are compiled differently.
Opponents of free prescriptions say the policy is open to abuse, allowing patients to request scripts for over-the-counter medicines from their GPs.
A survey of doctors’ surgeries by the Liberal Democrats found patients had asked for prescriptions for aspirin, nit combs and even honey. Eighty-three of the 133 doctors surveyed thought charging should be re-introduced.
Wales’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Jewell, said: ‘Free prescriptions is a long-term investment in managing chronic conditions and improving health which has removed the financial burden from patients and which will ultimately reduce the cost and pressure on the NHS from the likes of emergency admissions.’
As of yesterday, Welsh people will also save more when they go to the dentist. They pay £12 for a check-up, compared with £16.20 in England.
Children are to be issued with free toothpaste and brushes as part of a campaign to improve the poor state of their teeth.