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Lancashire hospitals raise millions in "tax on sick" parking fees

Parking charges at Royal Preston Hospital are in the spotlight.
Parking charges at Royal Preston Hospital are in the spotlight.
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Lancashire’s health scrutiny committee  is to be asked to investigate parking charges at all county hospitals after it was revealed Health Trusts in Lancashire and South Cumbria took £5.1m in parking fees last year.

Critics say it is a punitive tax on the sick after it was revealed NHS hospitals in England made £174m from charging patients, visitors and staff for parking in 2016/17.

County Coun Peter Britcliffe, Chair of Lancashire County Council's Health Scrutiny Committee

County Coun Peter Britcliffe, Chair of Lancashire County Council's Health Scrutiny Committee

Top of the Lancashire league was the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which runs Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals. It collected a record £2,263,000 in 2016/17. Parking fines amounted to £7,920.

The cost conscious Trust recently introduced charges for disabled parkers .

Meanwhile the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust collected £1,077,000 in the last financial year. Some £735,000 came from visitors and £342,000 from staff.

Karen Partington, Chief Executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We apply charges because we do not believe the cost of providing safe and secure carparks should be funded by budgets intended for patient care and treatment. The charges fund hospital car park management, maintenance and security, which cost nearly £1m per year. Any surplus is reinvested in patient care and providing hospital services.”

She continued: “We appreciate that some people can’t afford hospital carpark charges, so offer concessions for a number of patient and carer groups to ensure that those who attend hospital frequently or have a long stay aren’t financially disadvantaged. People in receipt of certain welfare benefits may be eligible to claim back the cost of hospital parking from the national Healthcare Travel Cost Scheme."

County Coun Peter Britcliffe, chair of the county council’s Health Scrutiny Committee, said : “If the money is going into patient care I haven’t got a problem with it and obviously car parks need refurbishing. As we all know the health service needs every penny it can get and as long as it’s being ploughed back into the health service I haven’t got a problem, although like everyone else I’m not particularly keen on paying car parking charges.”

But he warned that charging for disabled parkers could set a precedent for other organisations. He said: “I’m not happy about that. I think it’s probably the thin end of the wedge and will lead to other people following that example and charging.”

Charges for blue badge holders were introduced in October this year by the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust. A spokeswoman said: "Blue badge holders in receipt of certain welfare benefits may be eligible to claim back the cost of hospital parking from the national Healthcare Travel Cost Scheme."

She added if an appointment overruns and a patient has a considerably longer wait than expected the cost of parking is refunded.

Coun Britcliffe said he would be suggesting his committee look at the car park charging issue at a future meeting.

Nationally the Labour party has pledged to abolish hospital car parking charges.

Liberal Democrat Health spokesman Noramn Lamb said: "Hospital car park charges amount to a tax on sickness, with people who are chronically ill or disabled bearing the brunt."

The Department of Health issued a statement saying: "Patients and families should not have to deal with the added stress of complex and unfair parking charges. NHS organisations are locally responsible for the methods used to charge, and we want to see them coming up with flexible options that put patients and their families first."

• Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust raised £1,662,000 in parking fees in 2016/17. East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which has a PFI (Private Finance Initiative) contracted out service, said it gained £100,021 in fees in both 2016/17 and 2015/16. In 2015/16 Lancashire Teaching Hospital Trust’s “income” from parking fees was £2,218,000, with £11,100 gathered in parking fines.

• What's your opinion? Have you been caught out with a hospital parking fine or struggled to pay car park charges while visiting a loved one in hospital or attending appointments? Share your experiences on the Lancashire Post Facebook page @lancashireeveningpost or by emailing fiona.finch@jpress.co.uk