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.