Hospital trust that clamped 1,700 cars
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.’