/ Health, Motoring

Parking shouldn’t make a hospital visit worse

Car park

Neither economics nor green issues can justify the petty meanness of some hospital car parking charges. We’re calling for fair charges wherever you have to park.

In just about every area of life we should be encouraged to use more energy-efficient modes of transport. That means using public transport more, and leaving your car at home.

But sometimes this just isn’t an option. I’m lucky enough to live in a big city, where amenities – such as hospitals – are accessible by public transport. Still, I recognise that taking a bus or train to the hospital isn’t always realistic if you live in more remote parts, or you’re in an emergency. For anyone who does drive to hospital, they could be in for a nasty surprise when they reach the car park.

Can you really be expected to know exactly how long your appointment will take? I think it’s unlikely, especially given the random nature of hospital waiting times. Yet in many hospital car parks you’re expected to predict this in advance, paying and displaying, with no option to pay on your way out.

People have told us that they don’t expect parking to be free; still some hospitals seem to view car parking as a profit-making service. Our recent investigation found that one hospital, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, clamped 1,671 cars in 2008-9 and made £1.9m profit from its car park alone. Ok, public services need to be cut back, but this isn’t a reason for hospitals to rake in money from car parking services.

So we’re calling for ten straightforward demands to make parking fairer – here are just a few of them:

  • Charges must be fair: We understand it is not financially feasible to give all patients free parking, but we want to see fair charges that cover the cost of running the car park without generating a profit.
  • Provide priority parking for those who need it: We want hospitals to provide priority parking for people with mobility problems, people attending for an emergency and women in labour.
  • Talk to patients and visitors about what they want: Listening to their views will ensure everyone gets a better experience.
  • Stop towing: Standard parking-enforcement practices – such as clamping and towing can be used excessively and we want to see an end to this.

After all, if you’ve been held up and stayed longer than you should there’s likely to be a damn good reason why.

Aly123 says:
2 July 2010

This is a major bug bear of mine, as I’ve spent a not inconsiderable amount of time at hospitals with various family members – two of whom have chronic conditions that mean this involvement has spanned decades. Planning public transport is fine, but sometimes people simply aren’t well enough to make the journey and need help getting to the hospital and the appointment. Visiting A&E unexpectedly in the middle of the night can mean you are still there at 8.30am the next day when rip-off parking prices simply add to the stress levels. My top tips: * Look for a nearby car park that is cheaper – hospital car parks can be the worst options * Time your visit so that you can park on single yellow lines * Parking on a meter on the road can also be cheaper than the hospital.

Tom Ritchie says:
4 July 2010

Two recent experiences of this first hand – one good, one bad.

Good experience – I regularly have to visit a relative who is seriously ill in The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Car parks are good and the cost – £1 for an hour – seems fair enough to me. What helps is that you don’t have to pay on the way in – only on the way out, so you pay only for the time you have actually been there and can get change from the hospital shop if you need it.

Bad experience – I drove myself up to my local A&E a few weeks ago after injuring my face. I was a bit freaked out by what I had done (so maybe shouldn’t have been driving) but getting to the A&E car park late at night only to be confronted with a pay and display machine was not what I wanted.

The machine was asking me to pay up front but at that point I had no idea how long I would be there (surprise, the queue to see a doctor was approx 3 hours!). Terrible customer service.


The attitude of my local hospital has changed from looking after staff in preference to visitors. The staff have now to park further away and not undercover. Now when you visit you still pay but at least your car is under cover and nearer the A & E

RonMac says:
16 July 2010

We in Glasgow have made 4 hours the maximum stay free. This still means medical staff running out to move cars!

Problem is that city cventre car parking is so expensive, park and rides overflowing by 7.30am, people use these hospital car parks as park and rides as the often lead onto a station or major bus route being hospitals!


Unfortunately, hospitals have been made into commercial organisations which need to pay their way. Over the last 20 years due to government policies, hospitals and their controllers PCTs have been saddled with huge financial costs through the use of PFI. Thus new facilities which under the old rules would have been paid for out of the public purse i.e. the Treasury, have to be paid for with borrowed money, usually at a rate that woud make most mortgage payers blinch. Until these debts are cleared, hospitals have to resort to all sorts of money-making ventures; car parking charges are just that, a way to reduce their crippling imposed debt.

It would be useful if Which? were to campaign actively against the use of PFI. Study the terms of PFI and you'll understand why it is one of the most expensive ways to pay for facilities.

Stevie Cornford says:
19 July 2010

I do appreciate that hospitals situated in town centres need to charge for parking – otherwise the facility would be open to abuse by shoppers, etc. However the Maidstone hospital on Hermitage Lane is far from any BR station, main road or major shopping location but they charge for parking which can only be for money-making purposes. I understand that hospitals need to pay their way but the administrators should realise that hospital visits – as either A&E patient or as a visitor – is very stressful and the worry about time on a parking meter cannot be helpful. This kind of stress causes frustration which must at times boil over against the staff. There must be a better way to raise funds.

Wendy Seamark says:
19 July 2010

Hospitals are not taking into account that some patients on an OPD appt needs to find a parking spot, then walk for long distances to and within the hospital. Then when the appt is over you have to retrace your steps and then pay for the privilege!! All the while in considerable pain. Fortunately my village has a help scheme, so I am driven there and taken home again. I have always felt as a retired nurse that a good way to save money is to remove the positions of the hundreds of managers that have crept into the NHS over the years.

Steve Whitley says:
19 July 2010

I do hope that Which? doesn't back campaigns to make car-parks at hospitals free. Some motorists (and I speak as a motorist) seem to want everything to be tilted in their favour and are unwilling to pay a fair cost for their decision to drive to hospital. If their doctor considers that they need it, they can travel to hospital by patient ambulance; they could go by public transport; they could go by taxi; or they could go in their own private car and pay for their parking.
I agree that systems that require payment as you leave are fairer than those that ask you to estimate how long you'll be at the hospital; and I agree that those with chronic conditions that require frequent attendance should receive special consideration. Otherwise, I don't see why I, a user of public transport, should subsidise car-drivers yet again.

Peter Wilson-Neasom says:
22 July 2010

There are three main reasons for visiting a hospital. 1 You need treatment or you are taking someone else for treatment. 2. You are visiting someone who is an in patient. 3. you are on business or working in the hospital. In all three cases the times that you have to attend may not coincide with public transport ond/or the public transport services may inlvove a long walk. Hospital sppointments may not be at the time that was arranged and you have no real idea how long you might have to stay there. Staff in most cases are not highly paid so any additional costs are punative whne other jobs can provide free parking. Modern society is far too proffit orientated and the idea of service seems to have been forgotten by many large organisations. If there was an exit scheme that only allowed exit with a legitimate code or token that was issued by the hospital then parking could be regulated in keeping with the duration of the stay or free to legitimate users. Let's not have any more excuses for making profits ot of suffering.