Patients and their families should not have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges, at what is already an extremely difficult time. That is why I am glad that the Department of Health has published a clear set of principles to allow the public to hold the NHS to account for unfair charges or practices that are in place.
Decisions about NHS car parking are made at local level, by the local NHS Trust and must take account of local circumstances and community interests. The Government is firmly committed to reducing central interference in matters that can only be understood locally, and setting car parking charges falls into this category. On 23 August 2014, the Department of Health published NHS Patient, Visitor and Staff Car Parking Principles, which was updated October 2015 to reflect the valuable role that carers play in our society: NHS Patient, Visitor and Staff Car Parking Principles. This sets out what patients and visitors should expect the NHS to provide with regard to car parking, including concessions for those that require frequent or long-term access to hospitals, for carers, disabled people and visitors with relatives who are gravely ill.
With regard to concessions, including free or reduced rate charges or caps, the guidance states that these should be available for the following groups:
- Disabled people;
- Frequent outpatient attenders;
- Visitors with relatives who are gravely ill, or carers of such people;
- Carers of people in the above groups where appropriate; and
- Staff working shifts that mean public transport cannot be used.
The guidance also mentions ‘pay on exit’ and similar schemes. It states that trusts should consider installing such schemes so that drivers pay only for the time that they have used. Additional charges should only be imposed where reasonable and should be waived when overstaying is beyond the driver’s control, for example when treatment takes longer than planned. Many hospitals and NHS organisations do offer free parking, however I believe the Government is minded of potential unintended consequences of universal free parking, and its possible effects on the number of available spaces.
It is a priority to encourage transparency in the NHS. Each year, the Government publishes information about the costs and provision of car parking at each NHS hospital. The guidance makes clear that NHS organisations should work with patients, staff, visitors, local authorities and public transport providers when planning their parking provisions.
The Government is aware of the need to ensure proper compliance with these standards and through the hospital regulator NHS Improvement takes up any concerns raised by the public where this is not the case.