High charges, overcrowding and pre-payment all blamed by public in Which? survey
Overcrowded and expensive car parks add to the stress of visits to NHS hospitals for half of those using them, according to a report published today.
Problems finding a space, the cost of parking and a host of confusing payment systems are among the difficulties facing hospital visitors, who may be going for treatment themselves, according to research by the consumer watchdog Which?.
Its survey found 67% of people who had used an NHS hospital car park in the last two years thought charges were too high. More than half visitors (52%) had problems finding a space and a third (33%) had to queue or wait to park.
Even when they found a space, 33% faced further difficulty trying to pay the charges.
The problems only apply to England, as car park charges have been scrapped at NHS hospitals in Scotland and will be phased out in Wales by 2011.
Many hospitals justify the charges by saying they need the income. But using the Freedom on Information Act, Which? has found that some hospitals make profits of £1m a year from their car parks.
Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which? said: “It’s outrageous that using an NHS hospital car park is such a problematic experience for so many people.
“Visiting hospital is stressful enough and people don’t need the added burden of battling with the parking system. The government must take steps to fix the system and ensure all hospital car parks have sufficient capacity, offer fair prices and have user-friendly ways to pay.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the government had launched a consultation into the issue in England: “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.
“We want to make sure that we get the best solution to providing fairer hospital car parking to all patients. That is why we have held a consultation on developing a fairer and more consistent approach to hospital car parking across the NHS. We are currently analysing the responses in full and will publish the results in due course.”
Paul Watters, head of public affairs at the AA said: “The AA has applauded the Scottish and Welsh governments’ decision to end the majority of hospital parking charges.
“However, we recognise that charges are often a key part of a strategy to manage parking space effectively and that, if parking became free, ongoing parking management would still be needed.”
He added: “Offering free parking to all inpatients and their visitors is the right approach, although we would like to see this extended to some outpatients, such as those undergoing regular treatment for serious ailments.”
Many participants in the Which? research complained that the problem was inflexibility and having to pre-pay.
A mother from the north-east said: “I have a son – now 11 years old – who has various medical problems, so I have used hospital car parks on many occasions, and it has generally been a nightmare.
“My main complaint applies to all the car parks that I have ever used, and that is they all require you to pay in advance, when you don’t know how long you are going to be. This means you either pay extra to be on the safe side, or risk a parking ticket.”