Sheffield NHS trust defends hospital car parking charges policy amid criticism

Northern General Hospital.
Northern General Hospital.

Sheffield hospital chiefs have defended their policy to charge for parking after it emerged the trust raked in more than £3 million last year from patients, staff and visitors.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was highlighted as one of the country's top earners from parking charges after taking £3, 073, 222 in 2016/17.

Parking sign at Weston Park Hospital.

Parking sign at Weston Park Hospital.

The charge was branded a 'tax on sickness' by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb, while Sheffield Hallam University chancellor lord professor Robert Winston called for them to be axed.

But hospital chiefs have hit back and said the charges are needed as a free parking system would be open to abuse by motorists who have no intention of visiting the hospitals.

Kevin O’ Regan, director of hotel services for the trust, said: "We understand the call for free parking but there are a number of considerations which influence the decision to charge.

"When we had free parking, this was often abused by people using the car parks for reasons other than visiting hospital or attending for care. This meant there were not spaces available for genuine patients or visitors and important accesses were often blocked."

He added that any income raised is put back into services and does not go to Indigo - a private company hired last year to provide the trust's parking management function for the next five years.

Said Mr O' Regan: "We have to provide parking facilities and this brings with it a number of costs including maintenance, management of the car parks, security, lighting, additional car parking etc. This is provided by a combination of trust staff and a firm of contractors who are paid a fixed sum not a percentage of income raised.

"All the costs incurred to maintain and manage the car parks come from the car park income and not from patient care budgets but if we did not charge, then we would still have to find the costs of providing and managing the car parks from our NHS budgets which would mean considerably less for patient care.

"Any surplus money always stays within the trust and does not go to the contractors. "

He also responded to claims that there are not enough parking spaces at the Royal Hallamshire and Weston Park - where it costs £8.40 to park for over four hours - and at the Northern General - which costs £3.70 for more than four hours.

He said: "In the last 12 months we have added another 150 spaces at the Northern General and Jessop Wing. This means there are now over 4, 000 car parking spaces which is considerably more than most other hospitals have available.

"We are constrained in increasing car park spaces on a large scale because both main hospital sites are in built up areas and so the opportunities for extra car parking are limited and also very expensive."

He added: "On the issue of car park payment machines not giving change, we have provided change machines at both hospital sites and a phone app payment option to try and overcome this issue."

Mr O’ Regan said the trust considers the impact of car park charges every year and If there is alterations in national guidance or funding arrangements then they would consider introducing changes.

The data was revealed as part of a wider Freedom of Information request which showed NHS hospitals nationally made a record £174.5 million.