If the cost of car parking in general is a subject guaranteed to raise hackles, the cost of parking at hospitals is one that causes outright fury.
Even though it’s easy to understand the principle of why fees are levied at Queen Alexandra Hospital, it doesn’t make them any easier to stomach.
We all understand that the price of the new ‘superhospital’ under the Private Finance Initiative was that Carillion, which paid for the renovation, has a 25-year period to recoup its expenditure. We all understand that without that cash injection QA would not be as it is today.
But we all feel, as a country that has grown up with the idea of an NHS that is publicly funded by all for all, that it is wrong to see such high fees being charged to people who are either ill themselves or likely to be distressed that someone dear to them is unwell. A scale that can see more than £16 levied for a 24-hour stay is comparable with a city centre shoppers’ multi-storey. It sticks in the craw – and that’s before we even touch on the penalty fees meted out for misreading the instructions, misjudging the length of time it will take to wait, or forgetting to buy a ticket.
What we are not saying here, though, is that Carillion is the bad guy. It is acting within the law and indeed within the spirit of the PFI arrangement as it was envisaged.
What we are saying is that the system is not serving the public.
Carillion has said it is willing to respond to the needs of its ‘customers’ – in this case the NHS – and work on implementing any changes that are requested.
Ideally we would see a reduction across the board – a move that most people would accept, realising that there are few places where free parking can be expected. Last year a petition set up against price rises garnered more than 1,100 signatures in a short period of time, so interest is high.
We await details from the government of concrete measures it can take to bring the fees down. And we hope Carillion and QA can look locally at whether contracts can be renegotiated so it does not feel that those turning to the NHS at desperate times are being seen as easy pickings.