Health chiefs urged to cut car park fees after three Norfolk hospitals make more than £3m profit from charges
PUBLISHED: 09:30 27 October 2014
A health minister has urged NHS chiefs to ensure regular visitors are exempt from car parking fees after it emerged that Norfolk’s three main hospitals made more than £3m profit from charges last year.
What they charge
The Department of Health issued new guidance to hospitals in August to ensure patients were getting a fair deal over parking charges.
The advice suggested concessions, including free or reduced charges or caps, for:
• People with disabilities.
• Frequent outpatient attenders.
• Visitors with relatives who are gravely ill.
• Visitors to relatives who have an extended stay in hospital.
All stays under 30 minutes at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital are free.
• On weekdays between 6am and 5.30pm, up to three hours costs £2, up to four hours costs £4 and five hours or more is £6.
• Any stays between 5.30pm and 6am are £2 and all day parking at weekends is £2.
• Outpatient appointments exceeding three hours at the N&N will be validated for £2.
• Relatives of critically or terminally ill patients who stay for long periods can get their ticket validated to pay a maximum charge of £2.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn operates a pay and display system. Charges are £2.60 for 0 to 3 hours, £5.20 for three to five hours, £7.20 for five to eight hours, and £10.50 for between eight and 24 hours. A weekly ticket costs £15.50.
• Blue badge holders can park free of charge at the QEH.
At the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston, parking is free for the first 30 minutes. Up two hours is £3, up to three hours is £3.50, up to four hours is £4.50, and over four hours is £6.50.
• Free passes will be provided at the JPH to parents visiting babies and children frequently, patients attending the Bure Clinic, relatives assisting at meal times and patients having cancer treatment.
• A reduced tariff of four visits for £3 will be provided for immediate family visiting a long stay or critically ill patient or claimants who are unemployed or on means tested benefits visiting immediate family. Patients attending more than one appointment within a week will be charged £1 for the second or subsequent visits.
The West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds charges £3.30 for up to two hours, £4.80 for up to four hours and £7.60 for more than four hours.
• Weekly tickets for £12 can also be purchased.
• Permits and refunds are provided to members of the public who are receiving income support or family credit and patients and visitors who have to make frequent visits to the hospital.
Hospital bosses said they had no immediate plans to change charges after drivers forked out record sums during 2013/14 to attend appointments and visit family members.
Norfolk’s three acute hospitals received £4.1m from parking fees last year and spent just over £800,000 on car park maintenance, according to new figures.
Two district general hospitals - the James Paget University Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn - saw their parking incomes surpass the £1m mark for the first time.
However, parking revenue at the county’s biggest hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, saw a slight decrease from £2.1m in 2012/13 to £2m in the last financial year.
West Suffolk Hospital parking
Parking income at the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds increased from £700,452 in 2012/13 to more than £1m in 2013/14 after the NHS trust switched to a new private firm to manage its car parks.
Craig Black, executive director of resources, said: “All of the money we receive from car parking is reinvested into patient care, and is the equivalent of the cost of running a ward for a year.
“However, we fully appreciate that car parking charges can cause concern to some of our patients and visitors. As such, we have not increased the tariffs since appointing OCS, and will not review them again until next year.”
The new figures from a Freedom of Information request prompted politicians to urge hospital chiefs to ensure concessions or free parking is in place for those hit hardest by fees.
Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and government care minister, said: “There are clear national guidelines that say hospitals should not be charging patients who have to go regularly and I would want to make sure trusts are respecting that. It becomes a tax on care if they are charging people who are regularly going to hospital and that is completely unacceptable.”
“Everyone knows the challenge we face in ensuring that we can sustain our vital NHS and this is not money going to a private company - it is money going into patient care and we need to remember that.”
Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, added: “Patients and families are understandably concerned about having to pay for parking especially because the NHS is supposed to be free at the point of use. However, I am all for honesty in the debate about the funding of the NHS and I would not wish for the hospital to lose important revenue, which I am sure is put to important use for patients.”
A spokesman for the N&N said there had been no change to visitor parking charges for the last ten years at the hospital, which has 7,000 staff and up to a million patients a year.
“Our charges for car parking are comparable relative to other hospitals and sites locally. Those charges pay for security, lighting and maintenance and reflect the cost of purchasing and owning the land on which the car park is situated. Any surplus goes back into patient care.”
A spokesman for the QEH added that there are were no plans to increase car parking charges and income from fees supported the operational running of the hospital, including the maintenance of car parks. Income went up from £999,417 in 2012/13 to £1,069,000 in the last financial year at the King’s Lynn site.
A spokesman for the JPH said it was difficult to determine why income went from £912,952 in 2012/13 to £1,010,000 in 2013/14. Income is spent on a variety of projects, including parking and grounds maintenance, security, and CCTV.
“Car parking charges are reviewed annually. Our parking charges for visitors increased slightly in July 2014. We compare our parking charges with other hospitals in the region and our pricing is considered along with the service we provide,” said the spokesman.