Hereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman has once again raised the issue of Hereford Hospital’s car parking charges in the House of Commons.
Jesse was contributing to a debate called by his colleagues Jackie Doyle-Price and Robert Halfon. The debate comes just over a week after the Department of Health issued guidance to NHS Trusts to regulate parking charges and to make the actions of private parking firms the responsibility of Trust management. At £3.50 for an hour, car parking charges at Hereford Hospital are some of the highest in the country.
Jesse has campaigned vigorously on Hereford Hospital’s parking charges for over 5 years. His first action as a newly elected MP in 2010 was to call a parliamentary debate on the charges. After discovering that parking charges at Hereford went to a PFI contractor rather than the NHS Trust Jesse conducted a major investigation into the Private Finance Initiative. This has resulted in overall savings to the taxpayer of some £1.5-£2 billion and fundamental reforms to how new hospitals and other public projects are financed. Jesse has also worked with Wye Valley NHS Trust to help to realise savings on their ongoing PFI contract which was signed in 1998.
Speaking after the debate, Jesse said: “The high cost of parking is a major source of worry and inconvenience for people using Hereford Hospital. Unlike some hospital trusts, Wye Valley NHS Trust does not make any money from its car park. It actually used to subsidise it for patients. The car parking contract is up for renegotiation in 2016 and I hope that the Department of Health’s new guidelines, combined with the political pressure that continues to mount, will assist us in pressing the contractor to do the right thing for local people.”
The full text of Jesse’s intervention is below:
Hospital Car Parking Charges
Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the Government’s guidance that hospital car parking charges should be fair and proportionate; notes that some hospitals are still charging patients and their visitors excessive fees of up to £500 per week; further notes that the charity Bliss has said that parents with premature babies are having to pay on average £32 per week; further notes that for many patients it is essential that they travel to hospital by car; believes that such charges affect vulnerable patients at a very difficult time; and urges the Government to consider ways in which hospital car parking fees can be reduced.
I am extremely pleased to be able to open the debate and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for making time to discuss this important issue, which has been impacting on so many constituents up and down the country. Before I go into my arguments, I must pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who has done so much to highlight this issue and many others that directly impact on ordinary hard-working people. It is incumbent on all of us in the House, when people’s loved ones are ill or they themselves require hospital treatment, to ensure that the National Health Service makes the conditions appropriate for them to access the treatment that they need, and car parking charges get very much in the way of that. I reiterate that I thank my hon. Friend for his efforts to push this matter up the political agenda.
Hospital car parking charges have largely been abolished in Scotland and Wales, but that is not the case in England where 79% of hospitals continue to charge, often at punitive rates. For so many of our constituents driving to hospital is not a choice; it is essential. Many of them are undergoing treatment which means that travel by public transport is simply not an option, particularly when they have to be accompanied by members of their family. Members of their family will also wish to visit them if they have a prolonged stay, and they, too, should not be faced with punitive car parking charges. To put it simply, hospital car parking charges are a tax on NHS treatment.
Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on procuring this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on his leadership of the campaign. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) agree that at the root of this—I come from Hereford, where hospital parking charges are reportedly some of the highest in the country—is a private finance initiative contract in many cases, which it is often almost impossible for the hospital in question to control? Therefore, there must be wider action to control PFI costs alongside hospitals to support the people whom we are trying to help.
Jackie Doyle-Price: My hon. Friend is quite right. He has done much to highlight some of the PFI contracts, the long-term consequences of which we are now having to deal with, where the contractors may have been rather more savvy in negotiating a deal that suits them rather than the patients. We must remember that the NHS should serve the interests of patients, not the providers of any contracts or services within it. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend and I hope that the Minister will consider what more can be done to challenge some of the contracts.