With the support of Lord Robert Winston, the Daily Mirror are calling for free hospital parking. While this is a laudable campaign, the NHA Party are keen that an evidence-based approach is followed and sweeping changes aren't made for the sake of grabbing headlines.
Why not make all hospital parking free?
First of all, social inequalities mean that the least well off are less likely to own a car, and vulnerable and elderly patients may not be able to drive themselves to hospital. A blanket policy for free parking could thus become a regressive policy, disproportionately benefiting the well-off. Rather, parking should be free for those who need support, and provided at a reasonable rate for everyone else.
Secondly, there are already major issues with car parking capacity at many hospitals. The cost and difficulty of parking does encourage some drivers to take other forms of transport, meaning there is a 'latent demand' for parking. Free parking could release this latent demand, making it more difficult for drivers to actually access the parking.
Finally, the money spent on providing universal free parking would be better used improving public transport. This would reduce demand for parking and thus make it easier for those who have to use hospital parking.
What's the solution?
The Department of Health already has some basic guidance on parking which suggests that parking be cheaper for certain categories of patients and visitors, including those have disabilities, are carers, are frequent attenders, or who are visiting relatives who are very ill. They also suggest that parking should be 'pay-on-exit' and not 'pay-and-display' so that drivers are charged for time used and not liable to have their ticket expire. Also, a recent RAC report notes that a third of hospitals still only accept cash for parking and many only offer pay-and-display.
The NHA Party would suggest going above and beyond the DoH guidance, and we would:
- Make parking free at all hospitals for those with disabilities, caring roles, multiple outpatient appointments, ill relatives, etc.
- Introduce a national cap on hourly, daily, and weekly parking charges for those drivers who still have to pay.
- Provide season tickets for staff at a discounted rate that is linked to their salary, and free for those with the lowest incomes.
- Limit the ability of private firms to profit from hospital parking, with the eventual aim of bringing parking back 'in-house'.
- Guarantee funding from central government so that any extra expenditure required to provide equitable parking comes from the treasury and not from funds meant for front-line healthcare.
- Move towards a ban on pay-and-display at hospitals, providing pay-on-exit so that drivers are not forced to guess how long they will be staying.
- Make it mandatory to offer payment by card and mobile as well as by cash.
- Invest in park-and-ride and public transport schemes to support those visiting hospitals.