Hospitals ‘cashing in on the sick'

Friday 4th January 2019 7:00 am
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Royal Surrey County Hospital, where motorists are charged £4 for up to two hours to park, is one of the NHS trusts under fire ()

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STEEP parking fees levied by the Royal Surrey County Hospital and Frimley Health Foundation Trust have been condemned as a “charge on the sick”.

Data published after Christmas by the Press Association showed that NHS trusts made more than £226m in 2017/18 from parking, including penalty fines. While NHS trusts in England still levy parking fees, charges have been abolished in Wales and most of Scotland.

It was revealed that the £4 charge for up to two hours introduced at the Royal Surrey in autumn 2016 is still the most expensive in England for short-stay users.

Frimley Health, one of England’s highest-earning trusts, made £4.5m in 2017-18 and has raised its charges in the last two financial years.

The Royal Surrey says revenue from car parking is used to provide and maintain its car parks and any additional income is put back into patient care.

Responding, a spokesperson for the Guildford-based hospital said: “The Trust does all it can to minimise the cost of parking to patients and has not raised its general visitor parking charges since 2016.

“However, providing and maintaining parking facilities on a busy hospital site takes considerable resource and the Trust has a duty to do its best to make sure that we focus as much of our funds as possible on patient care. The vast majority of visits last longer than two hours so for most patients the cost of visiting our site is £2 per hour, which is less than most hospitals.

“We are continuing to do all we can to make visiting our hospital as easy as possible and are currently reviewing our travel plans. We provide reduced parking charges for patients who need to frequently attend hospital. We are working with local public transport providers to provide low-cost travel to the hospital and have also invested in the Hoppa patient transport service and encourage those who can to make use of these low-cost options.”

Defending its charges, a Frimley Health spokesman said: “The amount of parking income is a reflection of the size of the Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust and the number of patients we care for at our three main hospital sites; Frimley Park Hospital, Wexham Park Hospital and Heatherwood Hospital. It includes income from staff car parking charges.

“The trust runs and maintains its own car parks and money raised through parking charges is reinvested into car parking and the provision of round the clock security at our main hospital visitor car parks. Any surplus is reinvested into patient services.”

Attacking the charges on patients, staff and visitors as “unaffordable”, Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, protested they were “a charge on people who are unwell, levied on them because they are unwell”.

Tom Sandford, director of the Royal College of Nursing in England, objected: “Nursing staff work around the clock to keep patients safe – they should not be overcharged for doing their jobs.”

Farnham resident Roger Blishen said the park-and-ride scheme he helped set up for Royal Surrey staff “has long been closed so they have no alternative but to use the hospital car park”.

Also objecting, Haslemere Health Group chairman Ian Doolittle said: “The group is particularly concerned about the time and expense local residents face in getting treatment in Guildford and elsewhere. If these fees really do need to be charged they should be kept to a minimum. They reinforce the case for more patients to be seen closer to home – especially at our own community hospital.”

Blue badge holders at Guildford and Frimley pay charges unless they can prove extenuating circumstances, a move condemned by South West Surrey Disability Empowerment Network as showing “no real concern” for the disabled.

Network chairman and Farnham councillor David Beaman said: “Many patients are disabled and on limited incomes. The situation will get worse if Surrey County Council withdraws both free bus travel for the disabled before 9.30am Monday to Friday and companion passes for the assistants they need to use buses.”

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