Hospital trusts are raking in as much as GBP 1.5 million a year each from patients for car parking, health chiefs have confirmed.
Figures released by the Department of Health show that 12 hospital trusts in England each took more than GBP 1 million in charges in one year.
The figures, given to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest that one trust, University Hospital Birmingham, raised GBP 1.5 million from parking fees in 2004-05. A trust spokeswoman said the high figure was the result of more than 550,000 people using two sites at the hospital every year.
How parking charges are used
She added that GBP 1 million of the collected funds were used to maintain the car parks and run a shuttle bus service from the local train station, while the rest was used for patient care.
Which? has given evidence on charges within the NHS to the Health Select Committee which is investigating such issues. We told the committee that hospital car park charges should only cover costs.
We also told the MPs that the costs of travel, including parking charges, are becoming an increasingly important additional financial burden for patients that can seriously affect access to care.
In January we revealed that one hospital – the Great Western Hospital in Swindon – charged GBP 35 a day for parking. A Which? reader told us he’d spent more than GBP 100 on parking charges at the hospital, as he visited his dying father. Our report sparked widespread interest in the subject.
Hospitals that took more than GBP 1 million
The new figures reveal other hospitals that have collected more than GBP 1 million in parking fees. These are the Cambridge University NHS Foundation Trust – which serves Addenbrooke’s – Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust and Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust.
Which? believes hospital parking charges particularly hit patients on a low income, and those who require a long course of treatment such as physiotherapy, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Macmillan Cancer Relief’s Chief Executive Peter Cardy told the BBC: ‘Raising revenue by forcing cancer patients to pay for hospital car parking is morally wrong. It is shameful that the sickest and most vulnerable people have to pay the most. Hospital car parking costs are often the final straw in a long line of extra costs faced by cancer patients.’
A Department of Health spokeswoman said charges helped to discourage the misuse of hospital car parking spaces by other motorists. She said most hospitals had exemptions from charges for patients, and hospital staff were generally ‘well-trained’ in telling patients about these exemptions.
Many patients are eligible for free transport either under the hospital travel costs scheme for patients on low incomes or through patients’ transport services for patients requiring transport on the basis of a medical assessment.
She said: ‘Ultimately, it is a matter for individual NHS trusts to decide whether or not to charge for car parking and the level of charges in the light of local circumstances.’