Hospital car parking in England should be free. Nobody goes to hospital because they want to, people go because they are sick. They go for treatment, for surgery, and they go to visit loved ones. In short, hospitals are not destinations of choice: people go because they must.
It is disappointing that the government has refused to commit to make hospital car parking free in England. Indeed, action by Ministers has been limited to a series of recommendations on hospital car parking. The government currently recommends that hospital car parking charges should not be applied to blue badge holders, carers, visitors of relatives who are gravely ill, and patients who have frequent out-patient appointments.
In reality, the trend has been an increase in parking charges and a reduction in the number of people who are exempt. Last year, NHS hospitals raised a record £174 million from charging patients, visitors and staff, with 40 hospitals reporting additional income from parking fines. There are cases in which some hospital staff whose shift overruns because they are tending to patients’ needs face fine for overstaying their parking time. I do not believe this is fair.
More widely, I recognise the concerns that public transport is not an alternative option for some patients wanting to avoid car parking charges, particularly in rural areas. Public transport provision has been reduced in response to funding cuts, and even where it exists, some patients are too unwell or too frail to travel on a bus.
At the General Election, I stood on a manifesto which pledged free parking in NHS England for patients, staff and visitors, paid for by increasing the tax on private medical insurance premiums so that no hospitals would lose funding as a result of scrapping the charge.
On February 1, the House of Commons unanimously agreed to a motion which called on the government to undertake a consultation to identify the most efficient means of abolishing car parking charges at NHS hospitals in England. I will follow any future consultation closely and continue to press the government to introduce free hospital car parking in England.