'Tax on sickness' anger as South Yorkshire hospitals raked in more than £5 million in car parking charges

Parking at Weston Park.
Parking at Weston Park.
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Patients, visitors and staff were charged more than £5 million to park at South Yorkshire hospitals in a year, new figures reveal.

Critics have now branded the policy a 'tax on sickness' after the statistics showed Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was one of the country's highest earners with £3, 073, 222 in car parking charges in 2016/17.

Parking sign at Weston Park.

Parking sign at Weston Park.

This was around £200, 000 more than the previous year's figure of £2.8m.

Elsewhere in South Yorkshire, Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust made just over £1.3m and The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust raised more than £912, 000.

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

Hospital chiefs have defended their policy and stressed money is reinvested but senior politicians and charity bosses were lining up to criticise the charges.

Northern General Hospital.

Northern General Hospital.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "Hospital car park charges amount to a tax on sickness, with people who are chronically ill or disabled bearing the brunt."

The data showed hospitals across England took £174, 526, 970 in parking charges in 2016/17, up six per cent on the year before.

The investigation highlighted Sheffield as one of several NHS Trusts raking in more than £3 million a year.

In Sheffield it costs £2.50 to park for two hours at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and Jessop Wing and Weston Park Hospital, while the Northern General Hospital charges £2.50 to park for four hours.

Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

A total of 111 NHS trusts out of 120 responded to the FOI request nationally.

In addition, 40 provided data on parking fines, showing they made £947, 568 in 2016/17 from fining patients, visitors and staff on hospital grounds. This was up 32 per cent on the £716, 385 taken by the trusts the year before.

The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust came out top when it came to parking income, making £4.8m across the year.

Shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, described the charges as an "entirely unfair and unnecessary burden."

Lucy Schonegevel, public affairs manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "People are having to travel to receive life-saving treatment and public transport isn't always an option.

"Vulnerable people, such as those living with cancer, shouldn't have to bear the financial burden of extortionate car parking fees."

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the current state of NHS finances meant it was sometimes hard to blame hospitals for trying to find money. But she said that did not make the current situation acceptable.

She added: "For patients, parking charges amount to an extra charge for being ill."

Kevin O’ Regan, director of hotel services at Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, defended the policy.

He said: “We have two million visitors to the Trust’s five hospitals each year and almost 4000 car parking spaces that are used several times a day by patients, visitors and staff. The figures quoted are not profit, it is the income we receive.

"As the UK’s second largest Trust we have significantly more car parking spaces than most and so our income in comparison will always appear higher than most NHS hospitals. Once maintenance and new development costs are covered, any surplus income we receive is always reinvested in services here in Sheffield.

"We provide free parking for disabled patients with a blue badge and have a number of concessions in place. We also have free drop off zones for accident and emergency patients and women in labour.”

A spokesperson for Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: "Our revenues from parking go towards covering the cost of general maintenance such as lighting and security cameras in the parking areas. The revenues are therefore essential to ensure that money is not diverted away from patient care.

"We also have in place free parking for up to 15 minutes. We operate a ‘pay on exit’ scheme so that drivers pay only for the time that they have used, although there are some pay and display machines."

The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust did not reply at the time of publishing, and a spokesperson for Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the figures were not available at this time.