Hospital Parking Charges Rip Off – But Why Charge At All?

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Hospitals are rather killing off that idea of the National Health Service being free to all by charging inordinate sums for parking at them. Something which does rather leave us with the question of why there are charges at all? The answer being that we have to look to our old friend, Chesterton’s Fence. Work out why charges were first introduced. Only if we can then say that this reason no longer applies can we decide to abolish whatever it is that we’re complaining about.

The insight comes from GK Chesterton, of course. If you’re walking in the country and come across a fence it is not valid to announce that it isn’t needed so let’s get rid of it. Only if you can work out why the fence was constructed, and also that that reason no longer applies, can you righteously grub it up. This is the reason we don’t fill in Offa’s Dyke, still got to protect the West Country from the Welsh.

Hospitals have been accused of placing a “tax on the sick,” with many doubling their car parking charges in the last year. An investigation reveals that almost half of NHS trusts have increased their prices, with some taking in almost £4.5 million a year from the fees. Patients groups said it was unfair to levy charges on people because they were unwell. The Freedom of Information disclosures from 124 NHS trusts shows that 43 per cent had increased prices in the last year for visitors, staff or both. At Airedale NHS Foundation Trust in West Yorkshire, the price for a four-hour stay went from £3.50 to £8 in a year. The trust made £1.3 million from parking in 2017/18.

So, why charge at all? It’s a form of rationing, obviously enough, and rationing by price is always more efficient than by any other means – say a queue of people waiting for a parking space to become available. Sadly, the very point of the NHS itself is to deny this obvious truth about rationing by price.

But we can go a step further backwards. Why was the parking meter invented? Because it increases the number of people who visit the shops near an installation of them. If each person is limited to some period of time then the parking spaces turn over. Instead of people just turning up and parking for the whole day.

And that’s a good reason to be charging for hospital car parks. We want to maximise – well, certainly optimise – the number of people who can park to go into the hospital in a day. Charging people means that we don’t get those parking there all day, instead people limit their use of the car park to what makes sense given the price being charged.

Hospital parking charges mean more people can go to the hospital. You see? Rationing by price does work.

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Grope_of_Big_HornSamarkand TonyRhoda KlappDiogenesQ46 Recent comment authors
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Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

Also, if parking were free (or much cheaper than nearby alterantives), hospitals near city centres would become free car parks.

Grope_of_Big_Horn
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Grope_of_Big_Horn

Or even free ‘park and rides’ given that many hospitals are well-served by buses, and huge numbers of people get bus travel for nothing.

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

There’s a town near me where most of the parking is free but limited to three hours. Those car parks turn over shopping traffic. Other parks charge less than £1 an hour but for longer (first hour also free). That town does not have empty shops. It does not have a high street problem. The charging at hospitals is not priced to deter, it is priced to gouge. They could deter/ration with a smaller charge, backed as always by the threat of fine. They don’t need three bloody quid an hour, it’s a profit centre. Don’t try to dress it… Read more »

Matt Ryan
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Matt Ryan

So they charge less and therefore get less revenue from parking fees. Presumably that money is recycled back into the hospital so they are now short X millions of pounds from the budget.

Where does that come from?
The taxpayer?
Or to put it another way, the people who aren’t parking in the car park.

Let’s have a sensible discussion about how health care (not the NHS) is funded in the UK and we’ll find the parking charges problem goes away as a direct side effect of that.

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Most people do not park there for fun. They are forced to be there. I have no objection to a deterrent pricing policy, but not an exploitative one. I suppose there would be no limit to how much the patients could be exploited and screwed over for money while keeping treatment nominally free. We don’t need to overhaul the entire funding mechanism (no matter how good an idea that might be, it’s a bit of a third rail) in order to avoid abuse of patients and visitors.

Matt Ryan
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Matt Ryan

Well apparently we do need to debate funding because the parking charges are happening now in order to balance the books.

Or do you think that the extra money is not being used to fund the hospital but being diverted somewhere else?

Perhaps it’s all going to the Chief Exec’s brother-in-law who won the contract to run the car park?

Matt Ryan
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Matt Ryan

I suppose there would be no limit to how much the patients could be exploited and screwed over for money while keeping treatment nominally free.

And I give you dentistry on the NHS.

People need to wise up to the costs of the NHS. Just because they are not aware of them directly doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Dentists and parking charges are a glimpse of what the real costs are. If people were given an invoice for visiting the doctor outlining what it cost to be seen I think that’d be an eye-opener as well.

Diogenes
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Diogenes

I give you the example of the hospital down the road from me, 50 yards from the town centre car parks. When it was free, it was permanently full. Visitors and patients alike had to find somewhere else to park. When the charges were aligned to the municipal car parks, suddenly there was room to park there. In my area, if you are a patient or accompanyi9ng a patient, you only have to pay for the first 2 hours of any visit/consultation. It makes sense to me. It is in no sense “gouging”.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

I don’t know about your local hospital, but mine has very sensible distance-sensitive pricing. Want to park in the hospital car park – without a disabled badge or similar concession – and it costs a fortune. Park within 100m of the hospital on the street, pay and display is expensive by less than the car-park. Park 200m away and pay normal P&D prices for the area. Park 300-500m away and pay nothing. As a way of organising things such that able-bodied younger people like me will park further away and walk, while the oldies and disabled bods get the nearer… Read more »

Q46
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Q46

Said patients could go on the bus, take a taxi, have a family member or friend drop them off/collect them. Patients are often in hospital for days, maybe weeks. Hospital car parks charges have to compete with car park charges elsewhere in order to ration – if hospital parking is cheaper, then people will park there in preference to parking in other car parks. The charges also have to encourage people, particularly long-stay patients to use other transport options. Consider that many people who are using hospital car parks are not patients but visitors. In towns and cities, consider that… Read more »

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Your arguments are not convincing. Hospitals could (and some do) give passes for out-patients or visitors so people who are not supposed to be there can’t park. My point is about ripoff pricing. Far above what is available nearby. Tim’s point is about charging in general. Fair enough to charge to discourage freeloaders (and NHS staff). And the bus? Not where I live. £3 an hour is the charge at my local place, not in the town centre, not near a station. Far above what’s available locally in fact. It’s exploiting the sick and their visitors and your excuses do… Read more »

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

When I was working at Airedale Hospital a few years ago, the parking charges were a significant chunk of my wages. Being a contractor I had to pay, though in that instance I managed to get it back out of the taxman. (Don’t tell Richie!)

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

The reason for charging in hospital carp-arks is that the alternative is to effectively prevent disabled people getting access to the NHS. Blue badges don’t pay, and the charges are set high enough that no-one without a blue badge uses them unless they absolutely have to.