Disabled people, frequent outpatient attenders, parents of sick children staying overnight, and staff working night shifts will not have to pay for NHS car parking from April
Less than a month after a Press Association probe revealed that a third of NHS hospitals in England raised parking charges last year, netting more than £254m, the Government has bowed to pressure and announced changes to fees.
Hospital parking in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is already largely free of charge, and pressure is mounting on the English government to follow suit.
But the recent Press Association investigation revealed trusts have increased charges by an average of 10% in the past year, with private firms netting much of the profits.
Now, the Government has revealed that thousands of patients and visitors will be able to access free hospital car parking under a new approach set out by Health Secretary, Matt Hancock.
The Government will also consider car parking capacity across the country, and how improved technology will reduce the burden for hospitals and take away stress for visitors.
Currently, NHS trusts are responsible for making their own car parking arrangements, including setting any charges.
And any profits from charges must be re-invested into frontline care.
From April this year, all 206 hospital trusts in England will be expected to provide free car parking to groups that may be frequent hospital visitors, or those disproportionately impacted by daily or hourly charges for parking, including blue badge holders and frequent outpatients who have to attend regular appointments to manage long-term conditions.
From April, across the country those with the greatest need - such as disabled people, parents staying overnight with sick children in hospital, and NHS staff working nightshifts - will no longer have to pay for parking
Free parking will also be offered at specific times of day to certain groups, including parents of sick children staying in hospital overnight and staff working night shifts.
The Government will work with the NHS and others to ensure that it spreads existing good practice from NHS organisations applying current exemptions effectively to others, and uses the NHS standard contract if needed to ensure compliance. It will also assess where capital investment could help to improve the experience of patients and visitors.
Technology has already helped a number of trusts to improve their parking, and the Department of Health and Social Care will work with the NHS in the coming months to identify and spread practical parking options that can make the most difference quickly.
These could include Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems, which use camera technology to scan car number plates; and ticket or token systems where eligible people can them redeem free parking, or receive a refund.
Hancock said: “This month millions of people put their trust in this government to deliver.
“One of the concerns mentioned regularly on the doorsteps was that vulnerable people, and staff working nights, have to pay for hospital car parking. So we are today delivering on our manifesto commitment and setting out our new approach to NHS hospital parking charges.
“Currently, the situation varies from hospital to hospital. Instead, from April, across the country those with the greatest need - such as disabled people, parents staying overnight with sick children in hospital, and NHS staff working nightshifts - will no longer have to pay for parking.
“This is yet another example of how this Government is delivering on our promises and focusing on the people’s priorities.”