The NHS is free at the point of delivery, until you reach the car park
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
The National Health Service (NHS) was founded on the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. It was launched in 1945 with the core principle that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery.
However, in most hospitals across England, you may not be able to reach the front door before you have to fork out to access the services. The doctor will not have their hand out, asking the patient to cough up for treatments - the majority of them, anyway - nor do you have to put a pound in to use a wheelchair. The NHS is not necessarily free at the point of delivery, because you have to pay to reach the delivery if you arrive at an English hospital via car.
Hospitals in England made a record £174 million last year in charging for parking, a six per cent increase from the previous financial year. The Press Association found, through Freedom of Information requests, that two-thirds of hospitals made more than £1 million in each of the last three years. The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust made the most money from parking, raking in over £4.8 million,
The figures obtained by the Press Association also showed a growing amount of revenue being made from fines - up by a third to £950,000.
The investigation also found that over half of NHS trusts charge disabled people for parking in some or all of their disabled spaces, with more trusts now saying they charge disabled visitors compared to last year.
Hospital car parking charges were abolished in Scotland and Wales in 2008, with the Scottish government claiming that free parking has saved patients more than £25 million.
A recent investigation by Auto Express found that hospitals made over £344 million from charges in the last three years, with each NHS Foundation Trust making an average of £949,000 a year from car parking.
The Department of Health said that over half of NHS hospitals offer free parking, but many only offer it for up to 30 minutes. Only four trusts in England, according to Auto Express, do not charge for parking at all.
NHS trusts have defended car parking charges, saying it is invested "for the benefits of patients". The money made from fees is put back into patient care or spent on maintaining car parks and hospital grounds.
The record-breaking sum made from car parking charges this year attracted criticism from political figures. Labour again vowed to abolish hospital car parking charges, with shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth calling them an "entirely unfair and unnecessary burden". The Liberal Democrats were similarly critical, naming the charges "a tax on sickness".
The government admitted that it does need reform, condemning “complex and unfair” parking charges, but a Department for Health spokesman said they were a matter for local NHS organisations rather than central regulation.