"Scrap hospital parking charges": MP Chris Skidmore
HOSPITALS in the Bristol area raked in more than £2.3 million in parking charges last year.
The fees for people receiving treatment and their relatives have been branded "a tax on the sick" by a patients' group.
Chris Skidmore, the Tory MP for Kingswood, has obtained figures showing that more than £85 million was put into parking meters at hospitals across the country last year. He called for a full review of the system and plans to raise the matter in Parliament in the coming week.
Cash-strapped NHS trusts say they have no alternative but to charge for parking. The Government called for a "fair and appropriate" approach from trusts, insisting it was a matter for each hospital to decide upon. Typical charges are from £2.50 to £3 for two hours, rising as high as £12 for a day-long stay.
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New figures show that staff and patients at University Hospitals Bristol, which runs the Bristol Royal Infirmary, paid £803,453 to park last year, while North Bristol NHS Trust, which runs Frenchay and Southmead hospitals, said it had received £1.16 million. Weston Area Health NHS Trust's income from parking fees rose from £266,688 to £413,237.
Mr Skidmore said: "I realise that every hospital is different, but clearly I would like to see free hospital parking.
"A lot of my constituents are saying that when they go to hospital they do not want the extra worry of whether they will be clamped, or their ticket running out, when they should be concentrating on treatment.
"The justification is that they (the trusts) use the money to maintain the car parks – but you can clearly see the car parks don't cost millions of pounds to maintain."
The three hospital trusts said there were reduced rates for long-term patients and the terminally ill, while at Weston General staff pay just 10p an hour. There are no charges to park at Cossham Community Hospital, in Kingswood.
The two Bristol hospital trusts said that income from parking fees went towards maintaining car parks with the remainder being invested in patient care.
Patients and visitors at most Welsh hospitals do not have to pay to park after charges were abolished in 2008.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "Parking charges hit patients hard – particularly elderly people or those who are vulnerable and unable to use public transport.
"It's the last thing patients, relatives and carers need. The Government and trusts need to look at ways of alleviating this pressure."
Simon Wood, director of facilities at NBT, said: "Car parking charges at NBT are among the cheapest for hospital parking in the region.
"The trust offers free parking to disabled people who display a blue badge in their car and to those with long-term conditions including renal and cancer patients.
"We also offer reduced rate parking for a number of people including frequent visitors and those visiting family and friends who are seriously ill."
James Rimmer, chief operating officer at UHBristol, said: "Car parking at our city centre hospitals is a challenge and we are always looking for new ways to improve the situation for our patients.
"If car parking charges were lifted so close to the city centre, we would be concerned that our car parks would quickly be filled with drivers coming to the centre for a variety of reasons. We look forward to hearing more about Mr Skidmore's ideas."
The trust said it runs a free hospital shuttle bus.
Weston Area Health Trust declined to comment.