Being sick or dealing with the illness of a loved one is hard enough on its own, but a Press Association's Freedom of Information study found that National Health Service (NHS) hospital trusts have been levying "tax on sick people" in the form of exorbitant parking charges.

According to the study, hospitals across England have been raising money increasingly from visitors, patients and even their staff, many of which are handing over millions of dollars to the private firms running their parking facilities for them and allowing some of these companies to cash in on parking charges. Others trusts are locked into lengthy private finance initiative (PFI) contracts that have all earnings from a parking facility directed to a private firm.

Out of the over 90 NHS hospital trusts that participated in the study, half admitted to making at least almost $1.5 million annually. There were 33 that earned over $1.5 million, 8 nearly $3 million and 7 almost $4.5 million in parking charges in 2014-2015. Out of all the participating trusts, almost half also charged disabled individuals for parking in disabled spaces.

To Katherine Murphy, Patients Association chief executive, these parking charges are morally wrong.  Charging disabled people? A disgrace. Especially when the money earned from parking facilities is not reinvested in frontline services.

Many trusts were quick to defend their figures, saying that some, if not all, of the money they get from parking charges go back to maintaining parking facilities or patient care. Others said that they merely earned a lot because they serve busy neighborhoods and don't necessarily charge unfairly for the use of their parking facilities.

The Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, for instance, raised a net of over $5.5 million for 2014-2015. Out of this number, more than $4.4 million was categorized as costs incurred for running a car park office and security, as well as legal fees.

Furthermore, Oxford University Hospitals' interim head of estates Mark Neal said their parking charges are in step with local rates and are lower compared to what other hospitals are offering. Plus, whatever they do collect go into maintaining parking facilities. Neal also justified not offering free parking services as a means of deterring people from using their car park for other reasons other than to visit Oxford University Hospitals.

There is no avoiding parking facilities during a trip to the hospital so it was suggested that, if offering parking spaces for free was completely out of the question, charges should at least be lowered or given at discounted rates to make parking fees more manageable.

Photo: Jim Pennucci | Flickr

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