Hos­pi­tal trust that clamped 1,700 cars

Daily Mail - - sandra Parsons - By Sean Poul­ter Con­sumer Af­fairs Edi­tor

THE sick and their fam­i­lies are be­ing pun­ished with ex­tor­tion­ate park­ing charges, car clamps and fines by many hos­pi­tals, it has been re­vealed.

Alarm­ing ev­i­dence on charges, prof­i­teer­ing and a hard-line ap­proach to driv­ers has emerged in re­search us­ing the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

The Ep­som and St He­lier Uni­ver­sity Hos­pi­tals NHS Trust in Sur­rey clamped 1,671 cars in 2008/09 and made £1,851,271 profit from its car parks, the study by con­sumer group Which? found.

Leeds Gen­eral In­fir­mary hit pa­tients and vis­i­tors with 10,330 fines gen­er­at­ing £142,000 in penalty in­come.

Bar­net & Chase Farm Hos­pi­tals NHS Trust, in North London, had the high­est min­i­mum charge of £4 for two hours’ park­ing.

The Royal Derby hos­pi­tal re­ceived the most com­plaints, 82, about the charges and fines.

The fig­ures sug­gest that some hos­pi­tals are tak­ing ad­van­tage of pa­tients and their fam­i­lies at their most vul­ner­a­ble.

Those rush­ing to see relatives may be in dis­tress and not have the time or the change they need for the park­ing ticket. For many, sim­ply find­ing a space is a huge prob­lem, adding to their nat­u­ral anx­i­ety.

Which? found that the dif­fi­cul­ties and charges in­volved in park­ing at a hos­pi­tal make the whole ex­pe­ri­ence more stress­ful for 49 per cent of peo­ple.

Pre­vi­ous re­search by the or­gan­i­sa­tion iden­ti­fied that some NHS Trusts are rou­tinely mak­ing more than £1mil­lion a year in profit from their car parks.

The ad­min­is­tra­tions in Scot­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land have re­sponded to pub­lic con­cern by ban­ning car park charges, de­scribed by crit­ics as a ‘cyn­i­cal stealth tax’, at most hos­pi­tals. The last Labour govern­ment re­fused to fol­low suit and the new coali­tion has not an­nounced its pol­icy. NHS hos­pi­tals made more than £110mil­lion from car park charges in 2008/09, an in­crease of £8mil­lion on the pre­vi­ous year. NHS staff paid £28mil­lion of this fig­ure.

Last year the Lib Dem health spokesman Nor­man Lamb, now an

‘Vis­it­ing hos­pi­tal is stress­ful enough’

ad­viser to the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, said the amount be­ing made was ‘stag­ger­ing’ and hos­pi­tals should not use ‘hid­den charges to help them­selves out of fi­nan­cial black holes’.

Which? rated hos­pi­tals against cri­te­ria based on ca­pac­ity, con­ve­nience of pay­ment meth­ods, fre­quency and type of penal­ties, charg­ing struc­ture and prof­its, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with pa­tients.

It found a num­ber of hos­pi­tals do of­fer a fair and ef­fi­cient sys­tem of park­ing, with the Royal United Hos­pi­tal Bath top of the list thanks to a large num­ber of pri­or­ity spa­ces, a com­pre­hen­sive va­ri­ety of pay­ment meth­ods and ex­cel­lent pa­tient com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Oth­ers to score well were the North Devon District Hos­pi­tal, the Royal Pre­ston, Le­ices­ter Royal In­fir­mary and War­wick Hos­pi­tal.

Which? chief ex­ec­u­tive, Peter Vi­cary, said: ‘Now we know which hos­pi­tals are scor­ing badly, they must take ac­tion and im­prove.

‘Vis­it­ing hos­pi­tal is stress­ful enough with­out hav­ing to worry about be­ing clamped or get­ting a ticket.’

Which? wants NHS hos­pi­tals to make charges fair, pro­vide enough spa­ces, of­fer con­ces­sions to reg­u­lar vis­i­tors and re­im­burse pa­tients for ad­di­tional fees when ap­point­ments are de­layed.

Laura Keely, of Macmil­lan Can­cer Sup­port, said can­cer pa­tients are hit par­tic­u­larly hard by hos­pi­tal park­ing charges.

‘The av­er­age can­cer pa­tient trav­els 53 times to hos­pi­tal and spends £325 on car park­ing charges,’ she said.

‘Hos­pi­tal car park­ing should be free for all can­cer pa­tients re­ceiv­ing reg­u­lar treat­ment.’

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