Here’s another one of those measures that looks like a good idea but probably isn’t. Hospitals in Wales are to abolish car parking charges.
That’s bound to be popular with the voters and good publicity for the members of the Welsh Assembly who voted to scrap the charges. In principle, the idea that sick people and their relatives should be able to park for free seems fair. However, there are a couple of problems with this plan.
Firstly, no-one seems to be saying much about how the shortfall in revenue will be made up. Hospitals in Wales took £5.4 million from parking fees last year. Will that be made up from extra taxes or from cuts to services? If the scheme were to be extended to England too, the hospitals would have to find an extra £100 million.
Secondly, this plan could end up costing hospitals even more money. Without a parking charge, there is no means of stopping people using hospitals as free car parks. I don’t know how many hospitals in Wales are close to railway stations but if such a scheme were introduced in London it would be a disaster.
Hammermith Hospital, for example, is just off the A40 and only seven tube stops from central London. If you commute from outside London, it would be an ideal place to park your car and do the remainder of the journey by tube rather than pay the high cost of parking in the centre. By the time patients arrived for their appointments, the hospital’s large car park would already be full. Other hospitals around the country would, no doubt, have similar problems if they were near stations or major shopping centres.
The only way to stop this from happening and to reserve the car park for patients’ use would be to set up a process by which patients and their visitors had to get their parking tickets validated. This would require sign off from someone who was treating the patient, to confirm that both patients and visitors were genuine and then a process for monitoring the tickets and cancelling them when patients were no longer being treated. In short, this would require yet another set of administrative procedures in an organisation which already has too many of them and it would probably need a full-time car-park administrator in every hospital.
More administrative staff and more bureaucracy, just what the NHS doesn’t need.
This might seem like a vote winner but it will be a real headache for hospitals already trying to manage scarce resources. Ultimately, it will be worse for patients too, especially if their hospital becomes the town’s shoppers’ and commuters’ car park.
It is typical of a badly thought through populist measure, dreamed up by politicians but which other people will have to try and implement. A better idea might be to leave the decision on parking charges to each hospital, so that local circumstances could be considered. But that would mean allowing local NHS managers to manage their services and no-one in government has any serious intention of letting that happen.