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Hospital car parking charges are an extremely emotive subject; it’s an issue which regularly stirs up debate and frustration.

Following campaigns by the likes of the Daily Mirror, the focus is once again on the cost to park at hospitals as Robert Halfon MP recently introduced a private member’s bill into Parliament that calls for the abolishment of charges. The bill’s second reading is expected in May.

Whilst we completely understand that no-one wants to be faced with car parking charges when they’re sick in hospital or visiting loved ones, we support the stance of the British Parking Association and NHS Trusts: hospital parking charges are necessary.

The benefits and reasons for car park charges at hospitals

Hospital car park charges:

  • Pay for car park maintenance and upkeep
  • Help control capacity and demand
  • Ensure priority access for those who need it
  • Prevent unauthorised use
  • Are a fair cost of driving
  • Keep hospitals safe and effective

Car park maintenance and upkeep

Hospitals have a legal duty to provide safe facilities for all staff, patients and visitors – this includes car parks.

Charges are necessary in order to pay for the maintenance of road surfaces, parking bays, entrance/exit barriers, signage and any relevant parking equipment.

If parking was free, where would the money for the car parks’ upkeep come from? The NHS budget?

Hospital car park charges ensure the NHS budget stays in the NHS. And any surplus profit goes back into the NHS to fund healthcare.

Controlling capacity and demand, and ensuring priority access

The vast majority of hospitals face a demand for parking spaces that outstrips supply. Multiple users want to park – staff, patients and visitors – but there are only so many spaces available.

Car parking charges help to control demand and capacity, by limiting usage times and assigning different car parks for different usage.

Staff may have their own car park, whilst visitors have dedicated areas. In one trust, we have special car parking spaces for those with life changing injuries who simply cannot park elsewhere.

We have also installed additional disabled parking bays that are to be used only by those who have electric wheelchairs. The creation of signage and markings cost money, and the spaces requires 24 hour monitoring and enforcement to ensure they’re used correctly.

Effective management of these car parks requires permits, technology and staff. If all car parks are free, will it be a ‘free for all’? Or if management is to continue, where will the money come from?

Preventing unauthorised use

Many hospitals are located in town centres or close to railway stations. If parking is free, how can trusts prevent shoppers and commuters using the hospital car parks for their own use, rather than to visit someone in hospital?

GP surgeries in town centres don’t have free parking for this very reason.

In Inverness, one hospital found many travellers were using their car park for free airport parking, given the proximity to Inverness airport.

There are discussions of token systems and validation options – but these all require a budget to implement and manage. They are also open to abuse by hospital staff.

 A fair cost of driving

 If someone chooses to drive to the hospital, they are paying for the ability to park safely and securely. It’s a charge for a service, not a tax on the sick.

Many people get public transport to the hospital. Free parking would be an unfair subsidy for motorists, as those getting the bus would still have to pay.

Any funding for free parking would be better spent improving public transport access to and from NHS trusts.

Most importantly, parking charges keep hospitals safe

Before parking charges, hospital car parks were a free-for-all. Drivers would park wherever they could – and this often meant parking in illegal places, blocking access routes, and hindering emergency vehicles.

Parking charges ensure that car parks – and all the surrounding infrastructure at the hospital – can be managed safely and effectively. Charges also often pay for CCTV and security staff.

At the NHS trusts where we manage car parks, our staff are on the front line when it comes to ensuring safe access for all. We are regularly clearing emergency access lanes, re-routing drivers in emergencies, and reacting to extreme situations.

During large scale accidents or incidents, car park management is necessary to close off and free up additional areas for the influx of emergency vehicles, concerned family members, and media crews.

Our team on the ground are often simply helpful members of staff – giving directions, guiding people to where they need to be, and providing an extra pair of hands when required. Some of our officers have even helped to deliver babies!

Without car park charges, how would this much needed car parking management be paid for?

The solution for hospital car park charges? Partnerships, cooperation and fairness

 We support the calls of many charities to ensure hospital car park charges are “fair” rather than free. Increasingly, we see many of our trusts offering flexible options for those with long term conditions – such as buying a set of tickets for a reduced fee for those patients who will make multiple visits.

Although there is government approved guidance on car park charges and management, this isn’t mandatory or standardised across the country. NHS trusts can do as they please.

We feel that the key to effective car park management and charges at hospitals is partnerships and cooperation. Trusts and car park operators like ourselves must work together to deliver the best possible service for all users – staff, patients and visitors.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We work with many different NHS trusts around the country. If you’d like to find out how we can help your hospital with car park management and charges, get in touch here.