In Sickness and in Health

In 2009 Someone very close to me had to go into hospital for surgery and it brought home to me just how much of an anxious time this can be for everyone concerned. Whether it is the patient or their relatives and friends once they hand over their loved one to a hospital there is an unnerving sense that somehow we are giving over their care to this great big beast called the NHS. The year before the NHS celebrated its 60th birthday and I remember praising the doctors, nurses and all the other folk that keep the wheels turning within that vast and complex organisation. Yet there is still a feeling of natural trepidation when one is faced with the thought of making the visitors journey to a hospital. One aspect of this necessary trip that has, on occasion, frustrated me immensely is the prickly subject of hospital parking. Very rarely has the hospital visitor chosen to be there. Indeed, quite often it’s a car park one would wish to avoid for obvious reasons. Yet, when we need to visit a friend or relative in hospital we are, it seems to me, regarded as a captive commodity ripe for car park charging. SICKOn the one hand one could say that there has to be some kind of a subsidy for the use of a hospital car park regardless of the cost. However, on the other hand, surely the mere fact that it is a hospital it would have naturally anticipated that people would be coming and going as visitors: parking is not an ‘add-on’ service, it is a necessity. I’ve heard all of the arguments, the pro’s and cons, the ins and outs, the ups and downs, yet there has never once been an argument that convinces me that hospital car park charging is justifiable. To say that shoppers might use it, for example, is ridiculous. That is not the fault of the visitor. That’s like blaming the fox for killing the chickens: build a better chicken house! In September 2008 it was announced by the health secretary that the majority of all hospital car parking charges in Scotland was to be abolished for staff, patients and visitors. That being the case surely this discriminatory charge needs to be abolished immediately at Northampton and Kettering. When one is visiting a hospital, for whatever reason, the politics behind why one is charged for parking is irrelevant. Just do it. Get rid of the barriers, tickets and the machines. If Scottish hospital trusts can receive government subsidy for parking then there should be no difference in the rest of the UK. Oh and here’s some food for thought. In early 2008 figures released under Freedom of Information laws revealed that a total of 250 hospitals earned a huge £77,563,764 from parking charges (Northampton General made £916,698) and 218 hospitals made a staggering £24,993,855 just by charging their own staff. It’s enough to make you sick!

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