Hospitals in Suffolk and Norfolk feature in top half of earners from car parking charges

Ipswich Hospital car park.

Ipswich Hospital car park.

New report reveals the scale of earnings from hospital car parking charges.

Graphic showing parking charges at four of the region's main hospitals

Graphic showing parking charges at four of the region's main hospitals - Credit: Archant

Concerns have been raised about hospital funding arrangements after an investigation revealed three of the region’s NHS trusts made more than £1million in annual car parking charges, placing them in the top half of earners nationally.

Ipswich and West Suffolk hospitals took more from their car parks in 2014/15 than previous years, while the most recent figures for 2013/14 at James Paget in Lowestoft also showed an increase in income. Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust made £862,000 in 2014/15, which was down slightly on previous totals.

The figures, provided in response to Freedom of Information requests from the Press Association, show significant variations in charges imposed on patients, visitors and staff, with those in England required to pay more than in Scotland or Wales, where hospital parking is largely free.

Of more than 90 trusts responding, seven earned more than £3m in 2014/15; eight made more than £2m and 32 – including the three in Suffolk and Norfolk – took £1m or more.

Sarah Adams, Labour’s health spokesman at Suffolk County Council (SCC), said it was a “thoroughly inequitable system, which is to the detriment of patients at English hospitals including those in Suffolk”.

“Most people visiting hospital are going either because they are ill or to support someone who is unwell – they are not going for their own enjoyment,” she added.

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Each local hospital featured in the investigation said it offered exemptions to disabled motorists, discounts to regular visitors and invested profits in car parks or frontline services.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said Ipswich Hospital's car parking charges were reasonable

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said Ipswich Hospital's car parking charges were reasonable - Credit: Archant

The highest reported figure earned by an NHS trust in Suffolk or Essex was the £1.57m made by Ipswich Hospital in 2014/15, which contracts private firm, ISS Group, to operate its car parks.

A hospital spokesman said its greater profits were due to the large number of visitors it received each day.

“In an ideal world we would not have to charge, but if we did not we would not be able to invest to make it safe for drivers and pedestrians,” the spokesman added. “Every penny we make from car parking goes back to either frontline services, security or car parking infrastructure.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said he understood why the hospital imposed “reasonable charges” and highlighted the range of discounts and exemptions available to suit visitors’ circumstances.

The £1.3m raised by West Suffolk Hospital was the second highest total raised by the trusts in Suffolk and Essex and showed a significant increase from the £690,000 raised in 2011/12. The increase is reportedly due to a change in the hospital’s contract with the new company managing its car parks, OCS, which meant that from July 2013 all income is returned to the trust.

Craig Black, executive director of resources at West Suffolk Hospital added: “All of the money we receive from car parking is reinvested into patient care, and is the equivalent of the cost of running a ward for a year.

“However, we fully appreciate that car parking charges can cause concern to some of our patients and visitors. As such, we have not increased the tariffs since 2012.”

Tony Goldson, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for health

Tony Goldson, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for health - Credit: Archant

James Paget Hospital did not provide figures for its car parking profits in 2014/15, though the £1m it earned in 2013/14 showed an increase on the previous two years’ totals. Its car parks are run by an in-house team.

A hospital spokesman said income was invested in car parking improvement, including security, maintenance and increasing the number of spaces available.

“Any surplus made is put back into healthcare provision,” the spokesman added.

Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust made the least profit out of the larger hospitals in the region – a total of £862,000 in 2014/15.

A trust spokesman said the trust had increased the number of public parking spaces at Colchester General Hospital from 393 to 584 and created more designated parking spaces for disabled badge holders and staff.

“Car park charges on the Colchester General Hospital and Essex County Hospital sites have remained unchanged since May 2007 and the money raised goes to the trust – we do not employ a private contractor,” the spokesman added.

Tony Goldson, who is responsible for health at SCC, said he would prefer parking to be free for patients, but acknowledged the need for hospitals to fill funding shortfalls.

Healthwatch Suffolk's chief executive Andy Yacoub.

Healthwatch Suffolk's chief executive Andy Yacoub. - Credit: Archant

“People expect more and more from the NHS and yet there is only a finite amount of money available so if the hospitals can boost their revenue through parking charges then I don’t see that as a problem,” he added. “Provided the money is invested back in frontline services and provided it’s not an obstacle for people to access the services they need, then I think it is reasonable for there to be some charges.”

Healthwatch warning

Health campaigners in Suffolk have warned that car parking charges should not prevent people getting the help they need.

Andy Yacoub, chief executive officer of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “Car parking availability and charging at our local services is an issue that a few people have raised with us.

“However, it appears that many may accept it as an inevitable factor in receiving care.

“Indeed, we have identified that less than 1% of the comments made to us, refer specifically to car parking as an issue across all of our local services.

“Most people tend to comment to us about their experience of the care they have received from the

services and staff.

“We all have a right to access services when we need them!

“Therefore, car parking should never be a barrier to getting help. We consider that any case made for

charging patients and their visitors, should ultimately lead to the profits being used to improve services for patients and their carers.”

Health chiefs say guidance should be followed

The Department of Health offers NHS organisations the freedom to make their own decisions on car parking to reflect local situations while providing guidance on “normal” costs of parking services.

A spokesman said: “We expect all NHS organisations to follow our guidelines on car parking, including offering discounts to disabled people. Patients and families shouldn’t have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges and our guidance rightly helps the public hold the NHS to account for any unfair charges or practices.”

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