Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Scotland ends NHS car park fees

Car park - generic
Macmillan Cancer Support said hospital parking fees were "a tax on illness"

Patients at most hospitals in Scotland will no longer have to pay for parking, after fees were abolished on Wednesday.

The move, first announced in September, applies to 14 NHS hospitals which previously charged for parking.

However, charges will remain at car parks built under the private finance initiative at three hospitals in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

Wales has already abolished charges at almost all NHS hospitals, but there are no plans to scrap fees in England.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it was not a "sensible use" of NHS resources to subsidise free car parking.

The department said charges were decided locally and should ensure exemptions or concessions for people who needed them most.

'Too much'

A cap of 3 per day had been in place at Scottish NHS hospitals since January.

However, charges will remain at Dundee's Ninewells PFI hospital and at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary, where the car parks are run by a private firm.

A Scottish Government spokesman said "the long-term nature of those contracts precludes termination".

He added that other hospitals in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area were planning to impose a four-hour limit on free parking.

The spokesman said: "NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has confirmed that staff are not being banned from using the patient/visitor car parks.

"However, to ensure that access is available to patients and visitors, there will be a time limit of four hours in operation on patient/visitor car parks which will apply from Monday to Friday at peak hours. The four-hour restriction will not apply to staff car parks."

When she announced the scrapping of fees in September, Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the move would help reaffirm the NHS's founding principle of healthcare free at the point of delivery.

The charity Macmillan Cancer Support has called for English patients to also be exempt from parking charges.

Put bluntly, hospital parking charges are a tax on illness
Ciaran Devine, Macmillan Cancer Support

It said it had carried out a survey of 1,000 people which found that nine in 10 believed cancer patients should get free hospital parking.

A study for the charity revealed cancer patients visited hospital an average of 53 times for treatment, paying an average total of 325 to park their cars.

The charity's chief executive Ciaran Devine said: "A typical cancer patient sees their income halved after a cancer diagnosis.

"To be then expected to find more money to pay for parking your car whilst you go for chemotherapy is too much.

"The Scottish government has recognised this and made parking free, we now want the same for patients in England.

"Put bluntly, hospital parking charges are a tax on illness."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "We do not think it is a sensible use of limited resources to subsidise car parking at hospitals for everyone.

"Our priority is the safety and speed of healthcare - one of the reasons in England waiting times are shorter.

"In England, hospital car parking charges are decided locally by individual trusts to cover the cost of running and maintaining a car park.

"All trusts should have exemption and concessionary schemes in place to ensure that patients and carers who visit hospital regularly are not disadvantaged."

In Wales, the assembly government scrapped charges at most NHS hospitals last April, and only a handful where contracts are in place will still have charges by the end of 2011.

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