The debate continues in the UK over whether hospital parking should be free, especially for patients with serious illnesses such as cancer.
“Macmillan Cancer Support is calling for free car parking for cancer patients in England,” says Helen Rainbow, a Policy Analyst for Macmillan. “This call is in line with the views of people affected by cancer and recognizes their status as tegular users of NHS hospitals, and the unnecessary financial burden these charges place on them.”
Parking is now free at almost all hospitals in Scotland and Wales, and for very ill patients in Northern Ireland, so Macmillan is now specifically focusing efforts to get England onboard as well.
In September, Andy Burnham, the UK Health Secretary, said he would like to see parking charges for inpatients, their relatives and friends phased out over the next three years. Then on December 29, 2009, he launched a consultation by the UK Department of Health to determine how to provide fairer hospital car parking to patients. The eight week consultation will end on February 23, 2010.
“I want to see a fairer and more consistent approach to parking across the NHS, which recognizes the pressure that patients and their families come under,” Burnham says. “People in hospital are often at a low point in their lives – emotionally and financially – and high parking charges can add to stress or limit visits from family and friends.”
“I am launching this consultation to develop a clear set of principles which balance fairness with the financial pressures that hospitals will be under in the coming period,” Burnham adds.
There is no question that this is a financial situation as well as a moral one – someone has to pay for the parking. So it is understandable that Burnham wants to establish a plan that makes sense. What’s more, his heart seems to be in the right place.
While this can be viewed as real progress, we will have a better idea of the results on February 23. But meanwhile, I have to ask: Why are some hospitals in England still charging patients with serious illnesses such as cancer?
Although Burnham may change this, currently the decision whether or not to charge for parking at NHS hospitals is left to the individual NHS trusts. Some hospitals do not to charge for parking. For those who do charge, the Department of Health has provided recommendations such as a “season ticket” for reduced rates or free parking; a weekly cap on parking charges for patients; and free parking for patients who are treated on a daily basis.
Despite these recommendations, Research by Macmillan Cancer Support has found that almost 60% of patients are still paying full price for parking.
“This is despite Government guidance stating that hospitals in England should offer cancer patients free or reduced parking,” says Macmillan’s website.
“Current guidance on recommended concessions for cancer patients is poorly complied to across the country,” Rainbow adds.
It may be not be a mandate yet, but UK hospitals need to do the right thing.