/ Health, Motoring

Car park u-turn shouldn’t give hospitals a free ride

Car park

Today the government announced it will scrap former Labour plans for free hospital car parking and let hospitals decide how to run their car parks. But we know from experience some do it better than others.

While we agree there’s no “one size fits all” solution to hospital parking, our research shows that too many hospitals are using excessive charges, fines and clamping to control parking.

We’ve also found that several hospitals simply don’t bother telling patients about the concessions they’re entitled to, which means many patients are losing out.

What I can’t understand is why all hospitals can’t introduce consumer-friendly payment methods in their car parks. Then you wouldn’t have to look for those 20p coins in your wallet whilst worrying about missing your appointment.

It would also make sense for hospitals to allow patients to pay on departure. It’s often impossible to know how long you will need to stay – especially if your appointment has been delayed (and let’s face it, it often is).

How hospital car parking has improved

Since June, we’ve been working hard to make visiting a hospital car park a less stressful experience for consumers and we’ve had some great successes already:

  • Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust (which clamped 1671 cars in 2008-9, making a profit of £1,851,271 from its car park) has launched a review of its car parking management following our investigation.
  • University Hospital of North Staffordshire has promised to introduce more flexible payment methods for patients.
  • South Tyneside NHS Trust has agreed to improve its information provision to patients about the concessions they’re entitled to.

We’re obviously pleased to see improvements starting to happen, but more needs to be done. The government has decided to put hospitals in charge of their own policy so we’ll be keeping a close eye on what’s happening on the ground.

Whilst we will continue to push hospitals at local level to improve their practices, you can do your bit by telling us your story to help us convince hospitals to up their game.

Comments
Member

Our local uses a park and ride system based in Sainsbury’s car park and it works very well indeed. Much better than either paying 2.00 to park or drive round for ages looking for a free space, which becomes very stressful.

Member

If the hospitals want to charge for parking it should be prices more fairly; all the revenue should go to the hospital itself and there should be more discretion used. Only achievable with directly employed people.

Kettering general parking is a perfect example. It’s run by a 3rd party who no doubt takes a great chunk of the revenue as commission. If the argument is that the parking is a source of revenue which can be used for patient care, why don’t the hospitals employ people directly to manage it. I can’t see how giving up a large slice of the revenue can be cheaper than employing a couple of guys to work shifts.
From a price point of view it’s the best part of £3 to park, up to an hour – a rip off in this area of the country. It’s 10p to park in the town centre for an hour.
The argument that it costs more to manage these car parks is ludicrous, what they mean is they wouldn’t be able to afford to police it in the draconian manner a third party company could. The 3rd parties over police these areas and have little to no flexibility.
I absolutely detest giving these people my money, but we have no choice.

Member

As an NHS member of staff – I am disgusted and have made this known locally many times.

Stoke Mandeville is outside of Aylesbury and there is NO where else to go – so abuse doesn’t take place.

Temporary units have been built in the car park and have been there 5 years meaning you have to pay to park in nasty cramped places and often mud strewn patches.

This of course means the hospital corridors are muddy; but patients paying extortionate prices to visit the Hospital are just morally wrong.

Member

What needs to also be considered is that in many cases hospital car parks do not operate in isolation from other parts of the town or city in which they are located. If the local council has a policy of high car park charges but the hospital charges much less (or is free) then many people will use the hospital car park and then walk / take the bus to the town centre (if they have to take a bus then it would probably only be cost-efficient for commuters who are paying for all-day parking, but a free service will be used by shoppers as well).

Any system which tries to solve this problem by providing concessionary charges only to hospital users is fraught with difficulties.
a) provide machines inside the hospital to get a token for reduced rate parking – walk in one door, get the token, through the hospital, out of another; not at all obvious that no hospital visit took place
b) provide tokens (or take payment) at the outpatients clinic, A and E, on the wards for visitors – administrative nightmare requiring extra staff – or nurses spend time issuing parking permits.
c) provide a parking payment office which checks outpatients appointments, ward lists to confirm that a visitor has visited patient X in ward Y, records for A and E visits – again administratively complex (and in some cases requires access to medical data), requiries staff, probably results in long queues which is actually likely to mean many people just paying full price anywhere rather than queuing for a reduction

Any hospital where the parking charges are out of line with local authority charges will either have to build very large car parks, leave patients will have serious parking problems or use expensive and complicated systems to reduce misuse. All of these cost money, so compounding the direct loss from parking charges.

Member

I was called to Leighton Hospital, Crewe at 10pm to be with my very frail and confused 94year old mother who had suffered a fall and been sent by ambulance from her care home without an escort. The home have a “no lifting” policy, so if they find a resident on the floor, they just call an ambulance. When I finally left the hospital at 4am, they wanted £5 to release me from the car park. I refused to pay, arguing that it wasn’t my fault they had kept us waiting all night, and they agreed to raise the barrier. They charge £3 up to 3 hours, then it jumps to £5.
When my son took his wife in labour to their local maternity unit and stayed for the birth, they wanted £12 to let him out of the car park! Again, common sense prevailed and they waived the charge.

Member

I agree with one of the posters above, in that many hospitals that are in town centres would be abused by town centre visitors if they were free/cheaper than other car parks in town centres.

The only fair system seems to be one of introducing some kind of scheme that validates a hospital car park ticket with a genuine hospital visit and offers the visitor a free or reduced charge for use of the car park.

Member
Marjie Cheesman says:
25 September 2010

I think all people with a hospital appointment should park for free. It would be easy enough to police, a special window sticker could be issued when the appointment is sent out. For patients arriving with an emergency, there should be a small separate A&E, FREE, car park,and, for those who have to visit for extended periods of time, concessionary tickets could be purchased from the hospital.
But all others pay a standard parking charge.

Member
Miranda says:
6 October 2010

High time we achieved a cashless option and could pay by credit card. Add a 25p fee if you must – but don’t make me carry a ton of change just to pay for parking – and don’t make me pay in advance, when there is simply no telling how long any given hospital visit might take.

My best experience was in Aberystwyth, when my father was dying there: no parking at all at the hospital, but the park and ride buses went via the hospital and both bus and car park were (gasp!) free. So the day when I waited 8 hours to see the specialist is now a treasured memory because I spent the whole day with my father without any external worries on my mind. Kudos to the hospital – but also for the parking system which made it possible.

Member

My wife recently had a mental breakdown and was in a pyschiatric unit in Houghton Regis, part of the Luton & Dunstable hospital. She was in the unit for 60 days and I had to visit nearly everyday to help her recovery. I only missed two separate days and she went downhill on both of those occasions. Fortunately the unit had its own FREE car park.

Unfortunately my wife has needed this treatment every year since 2003 and the unit has now closed, being replaced by a ward in the vincinity of the main hospital in Luton, next to the M1. The car parks there used to charge £2.50 for up to 5 hours. That would have cost me £145 in parking charges (on top of the fuel costs which worked out at £225).

BUT the hospital has this year put up its charges to £4 for 3 hours and £6 for up to 5 hours. It would have cost me £232 in parking, possibly up to £348 if I had to stay over 3 hours.

On top of this the car park ONLY accepts coins – No notes or cards. Last time I used it, it rejected some of my coins. What do you do then?