Hospital parking charges should be ‘more compassionate’

A national review of hospital parking charges by the HSE is expected to be completed by the summer.

Health Minister Simon Harris, who ordered the review, said he wants to see a “more compassionate and fair approach” to parking charges.

The Irish Cancer Society, welcoming the move, said a patient could spend up to €1,000 on parking charges over the course of their treatment. Some pay up to €60 a week.

Mr Harris said the review would see the financial burden reduced on patients who most frequently visited hospitals.

The HSE said hospital car parking charges were a significant part of hospital revenue. The charges also ensure the cost of developing and maintaining car parks did not become a drain on hospital service budgets.

Hospital car parking charges raised around €19m in 2016, with Cork University Hospital’s car park generating just over €3m.

The minister wants the HSE to establish current parking arrangements across the hospital sector and develop consistent guidelines for this area.

The review is expected to be completed by mid-2018.

The review will involve the Irish Cancer Society and other patient advocacy groups. It will take account of the income generated by parking charges and the impact of any reduction on hospital services.

Mr Harris said he had heard from many patients, as well as the cancer society, about the need to develop national guidelines. “I know that some hospitals take into account the pressure that these charges can put on patients and families who are dealing with illness, particularly long-term illness, and have measures in place to alleviate this pressure.

“However, I want to make sure that we have national guidelines in place to inform practice in hospital parking charges around the country.”

Head of services and advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, Donal Buggy said the society had been pushing for a review of hospital car parking charges for years.

He said the society had published draft guidelines they felt would go a long way to addressing the challenge of car parking charges for people visiting hospitals regularly.

While some hospitals did provide free car parking to cancer patients and other patients who had chronic long-term illnesses, it was on an ad-hoc basis.

Mr Buggy said he wanted an upper limit to be placed on weekly car parking charges so people attending hospitals regularly would not pay any more for parking once it had been reached. All patients with chronic long-term illnesses should be considered, not just cancer patients, he said.

Free parking, he said, was not the solution because of the cost of providing the infrastructure and the need to manage the flow of people through the hospital system.

However, he hoped hospitals would take a compassionate view towards those who were ill and needed to visit hospitals on a regular basis.

Currently, the only national policy that exists in relation to car parking is that hospitals must set a daily maximum charge but there is no upper limit.

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