More than one in 10 hospitals is charging disabled drivers for parking, just as the NHS tries to plug what is expected to be close to a £2bn deficit this year.
Labour has analysed government figures and found that 132 hospital sites in England charge disabled people and visitors to park their cars. This is out of 1,251 sites that provided details to the annual Estates Return Information Collection, which was published last week.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said last year that “patients and families shouldn’t have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges”. He pointed out his department’s guidance on such charges, which included concessions for the disabled and visitors to relatives who are gravely ill.
Robert Halfon, the minister without portfolio, who suffers from osteoarthritis and a form of cerebral palsy, is a Blue Badge holder who has previously condemned the charges as “a stealth tax on the vulnerable”.
But parking charges are worth around £200m a year, vital money at a time when the NHS is so financially stretched. Last month it was claimed that more than 50 NHS institutions were handed £1.2bn in 2014-15 to cover wages, debts and the replacement of vital, but antiquated, medical equipment.
Justin Madders, a shadow Health minister, said: “Jeremy Hunt promised to tackle these unfair charges, but as ever with the Tories you can’t trust a word they say on the NHS.
“Disabled people often have no choice but to drive to hospital, and it’s wrong to target them with parking fees. Hospitals are being forced to introduce or increase parking charges because they are desperately short of cash … disabled people are paying the price.”
The news follows a report last week that showed 112 NHS trusts had increased car parking charges. A hospital in Kent had increased its rate by 60 per cent, from £5 to £8, while the Wye Valley Trust had hiked the average price of a parking ticket from 33p to £3.17.
The Health minister Ben Gummer said: “NHS bosses shouldn’t hit disabled patients with unfair car parking charges. We urge hospitals to offer cheaper rates to the elderly, disabled people and patients who have to make lots of trips to hospital … Local patient groups should keep an eagle eye out for any excessive price hikes.”
Thousands protested in London yesterday (see above) against changes to junior doctors’ contracts in England, which they claim will reduce their pay by up to 40 per cent.
Mr Hunt said the British Medical Association, which is the doctors’ trade union, has “misrepresented the Government’s position” and insisted junior doctors would benefit from a reduction in their maximum working hours from 91 to 72. He wants to alter contracts so there is better medical cover at weekends, but says it will also mean junior doctors will no longer face the prospect of working five nights in a row.
Heidi Alexander, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: “Jeremy Hunt punishes staff for his own mismanagement of the NHS… Junior doctors are the backbone of the NHS … It’s wrong that this Government is OK with the idea of paying some junior doctors less to do the work they do now … And they’re wrong to punish staff for their own financial mismanagement of the NHS.
“Nobody wants to see industrial action but nobody wants junior doctors too exhausted to provide safe patient care either.”
Dr Johann Malawana, chairman of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, said the protests were “a wake-up call for ministers”.
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