Car parking on NHS hospital sites has become a controversial topic with many trusts outsourcing the service to private contractors. Patients who need frequent treatment are forced to pay substantial sums.
Hospitals have been told they must make car parking free to some patients from next month as well as allowing staff working nights to park without charge.
NHS England has issued a directive to trusts setting out the expectations on free parking across England from the start of the new financial year.
Many hospitals have built the income from parking charges into their budgets to help offset cuts and rising demands elsewhere. In 2018-19, £272m was made from car park charges with £186m from patients and visitors and £86m from NHS staff.
In a letter sent to hospitals last week, first reported by the Health Service Journal, NHS England it expected parking to be free for some groups from next month. This includes night shift staff, disabled patients, patients making frequent outpatient visits, and parents of children who were sick in hospital.
During the coronavirus pandemic most hospitals were expected to provide free parking to NHS staff.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, promised to bring in the changes during 2020 after the Conservatives included it in their election manifesto. The change was delayed due to the pandemic.
In a letter to hospitals, NHS England’s chief financial officer Julian Kelly said: “This is a requirement in the standard NHS contract and should be implemented. We allowed a grace period from the original implementation date of January 2021. We ask that the contractual requirement is met during April. Funding will be included in 2021-22 system envelopes.”
He added: “I know that car park capacity remains a challenge for many trusts and you may not have been able to focus in year on capital car parking schemes. We have a number of schemes in train and, with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), are in principle open to considering other schemes in 2021-22 and beyond within the DHSC capital settlement.
“We will work with you to evidence particular capacity concerns and the most appropriate way to mitigate these, for example, through additional capacity or technological solutions.”
In recent weeks hospitals have started warning that charging for parking would return. Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals Trust has said it will re-start charging for most visitors from 1 April. It allows the first 30 minutes free with charges of £2.50 for two hours and £3.50 for four hours.