Hospital car park charges bring in £3million-plus for healthcare
New figures have revealed that car park charges at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals have generated more than £3million for healthcare.
While most patients pay for parking, staff have been enjoying free parking for nearly two years - but staff union Unison says it will be a "kick in the teeth" if this was to end.
East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust (ESNEFT), which runs the two hospitals, says staff parking will continue to be free until the pandemic is over.
A Freedom of Information request by this newspaper has revealed that before Covid ESNEFT made £862,552 from staff through charges for parking at Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals.
The hospital car parks, both managed by ESNEFT, made a lot more income from patients and visitors - a total of £2,062,117 in 2019/2020.
This significantly dropped in 2020/21, the pandemic year, to £710,394-worth of income from visitors and £309 income from staff.
The trust also made a total of £446,981.62 in 2019/20 and £19,418.80 in 2020/21 from fining visitors and staff.
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UNISON Eastern regional organiser Cheryl Godber said: “Any reintroduction of charges would be a real kick in the teeth staff who have been denied a decent pay rise despite giving their all during the last two incredibly challenging years and now face soaring price rises.
“The trust must also answer questions over the eye-watering sums it’s received from fining patients and staff, including identifying what that income has been used for."
Dee Holbrook, Royal College of Nursing senior officer for Suffolk, Norfolk and North East Essex, said a review into car parking charges should happen after the pandemic, citing "below inflation" NHS pay rises.
She added: “Having to pay high parking charges puts extra pressure on already stretched finances.
"While working long and stressful shifts, nursing staff should not have to worry about how they will safely get home or high charges for parking.”
Fiona Sparrow, associate director of estates and facilities at ESNEFT, said: “All parking income at the Trust goes back into patient care – we provide healthcare to nearly 10,000 people every day across east Suffolk and north east Essex. This includes maintaining and improving our car parks for the many people who travel to our hospitals by car.
“A large majority of visiting remains suspended across ESNEFT hospitals due to Covid-19. However, we still offer free car parking to patients who come to our hospitals often for regular appointments, Blue Badge holders and parents and/or carers who have children in hospital overnight. We also offer free car parking to close relatives who are visiting a loved one receiving end of life care.
“Parking has been free for all ESNEFT staff for nearly two years, and it will continue to be free until the COVID-19 pandemic ends, or until national guidance changes.
“If anyone believes they have been fined in error in our car parks, we’d strongly encourage them to contact us directly and we will investigate further. The Trust’s travel team is very happy to listen to appeals.”
Significant progress on fines was made in November 2021, the trust claimed after some problems with its new automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system were solved.
Kelly Weston, a former Stage 4 bowel cancer patient, who was fined twice in 2021 and was later given a waiver said: "I think it is a disgrace that the trust is profiteering from people in often vulnerable and extremely distressing circumstances.
"Whether that’s attending hospital as a patient, or visiting a loved one.
"I am sure that there are others who are less likely to challenge, just went along with it and parted with essential money, especially when threatened with further fees and court action."
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “Parking charges at hospitals can often be a cause of frustration for people, although many accept it as an inevitable factor in receiving care.
“If the public do express concerns to us, it tends to be about a limited availability of parking spaces and having to account for that when planning journey times, whether it is for an appointment or to visit someone."