Yesterday, I co-sponsored a motion in Parliament on Hospital Car Parking Charges. The campaign against Car Park charges has been championed by The Daily Mirror newspaper and they have gained support from The British Medical Association and the Society for Acute Medicine. It is an incredibly important campaign and one I wholeheartedly support.
Abolishing hospital car parking charges was a pledge that was a part of the manifesto I stood on in last year’s general election and I learned again just how serious an issue it was to those who work in the NHS during an event I held with nurses in Hull during my Big Conversation event last September.
The financial squeeze NHS professionals are facing has been documented, for example midwives have lost £6000 in real terms wages since 2010 and so the additional costs of parking their cars seems particularly unfair.
An investigation by the Trade Union, Unison, found some nurses were having to rush out in between appointments to move their cars and avoid fines, a situation that is frankly ridiculous.
Our hospitals are open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year and staff working in our hospitals finish working shifts at all different times. We have a duty to keep them safe, after spending their shift caring for us, they should not have to return to cars parked in dark and isolated streets because they cannot afford to pay to park in the hospital car park.
And it’s not just nurses and other hospital workers that would benefit from making hospital car parks free but patients too.
We all hate to think what would happen if one our loved ones ended up staying in hospital for a long time and having a relative in hospital is stressful enough without having to pay through the nose to visit them.
It can be even worse for those who have to stay in hospital long term. A dear friend of mine, Dermot, has now been in hospital for well over 28 days. A particularly cruel and unfair consequence of his long stay in hospital is the stopping of his payments for Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance.
If he had been receiving PIP instead of DLA that would have been stopped as well. His wife’s income has been affected too, because she is his carer, and she has stopped receiving her carers Allowance since Dermot became ineligible for DLA. Friends have rallied round and organised a fund raising concert called “Folk the 28 day rule” to raise money to support him.
But friends should not be having to arrange folk night fundraisers to compensate for our welfare system’s failure to support people. This dramatic fall in his family’s income makes the added travel and carparking costs particularly cruel.
This is just one example, but it highlights the unfairness many families face of having to pay everyday to park and visit a loved one at a time when their income may have dramatically fallen.
Another example, one of the saddest examples, of the ‘sickness tax’ is for parents of premature and sick babies. We know that for premature and sick babies to have the best possible outcomes they need hands-on-care every day. Many parents have to travel from home to be with their baby and the daily costs of traveling to the hospital can be a barrier to parents being with them.
The charity Bliss stated that parents surveyed said they spent £32 a week on average, on car parking charges, visiting their baby. This is an unacceptable cost. All new, precious babies have the right to be with their parents and not just the parents with the ability to pay.
Given that this is the effect it is having on patients, nurses and other NHS workers, it is clear that something has to change. We all know that our NHS is underfunded. The hospital trust in my constituency, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust received £1.57million in car parking charges in 2016/17, according to data released via FOI.
And while we must take this as our starting point, we have to ask ourselves the question is it fair that this responsibility of funding the NHS falls on the patients? The Nurses? The Doctors?
I believe that it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure our NHS has the money it needs, not patients, staff or visitors.
We should not be expecting vulnerable people to have to pay a ‘sickness tax’ through car parking charges. Any loss in income from these charges should be funded by a fair and transparent tax system and not from those most vulnerable or most in need.
That’s why I called on the government today to axe this tax on patients, staff and visitors and commit to providing proper funding to the NHS to cover the shortfall. They must take action now, or move aside and make way for a government that will.