Scrap hospital parking charges for carers or risk serious impact on NHS – warns campaign

CarersUK_Logo_Lnd_CMYK_PosPercentage of hospitals charging patients for parking doubles in a decade; with 63% of NHS Trusts who charge for parking increasing their fees since 2014
Today, Julie Cooper MP and Carers UK have launched a new campaign, Park the Charges for Carers, as the Labour MP for Burnley proposes new legislation to exempt carers eligible for Carer’s Allowance from hospital parking charges in England.
The campaign launches as Carers UK analysis of data released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre this week shows that the percentage of hospitals charging patients and visitors to park has doubled in a decade (15% in 2004-05 to 30% in 2014-15). Futher analysis by the charity also reveals that of the NHS hospital Trusts that charge patients and visitors for parking in England, 63% have increased their charges since last year.

The 5.4 million people in England who provide unpaid care for a disabled, older or seriously-ill loved one save the State £96.5bn every year; close to the total amount spent annually on running the NHS. Without carers, the NHS would collapse. Yet the health service is penalising the very people who are propping it up by charging anywhere between an average of £11-£131.50 per week in parking charges when their loved ones go in to hospital.

Car parking charges can add to the financial hardship that many of the country’s carers already face. When people take on a caring role, they often face a steep drop in income if they have to leave work or reduce their hours to care; this is then coupled with a steep rise in expenditure as a result of the additional costs of caring and disability. Almost half of carers (48%) who responded to Carers UK’s annual State of Caring survey struggle to make ends meet and of these carers, almost 1 in 3 (30%) have had to use their savings to survive.

Jackie Puddifoot is one such carer who had to use her savings to cover the cost of hospital parking charges when her husband, David, had a long spell in hospital last year. Jackie cares full-time for David who has secondary progressive MS and hairy cell leukemia. Jackie says: 

“As David’s wife and sole carer, I was at the hospital every day from 9.30am until 7pm. We live 22 miles from the hospital and rely on benefits as our sole income – so the expense of travelling to and from hospital every day and paying the parking charges was huge. We exhausted the little savings we had. Weekly parking tickets were available and cheaper than daily charges, but I never knew how long my husband would be in hospital for. The last thing I needed was to be worrying about car parking charges when I was anxious about whether my husband was going to make it or not. Carers are at such a disadvantage already, car parking charges are one extra penalty they do not need.”

Almost 6 in 10 (59%) carers in England say that their local hospital is not carer-friendly, as it fails to recognise and support them in their caring role. Of those carers who believe their hospital is the least carer-friendly service in their community, 7 in 10 (74%) said it made it more difficult to look after the person they care for, 6 in 10 (60%) said it had a negative impact on their physical or mental health and 1 in 3 (33%) said it had a negative financial impact.

Carer Ann Brosnan wants to see hospitals do more to support and recognise carers. Ann cares full-time for her 93-year-old mother, Joyce, who has dementia. Ann says: 

“When my mother was taken into A&E with an infection, parking charges were the last thing on my mind. Over the next few days – and weeks – I was paying £6 a day to visit my mother in hospital. The cost of the 30 mile round trip and the parking took up most of my weekly Carer’s Allowance, which is my sole income. At stressful times, hospitals could do so much more to support carers; at the very least, they should provide free parking.”

The Park the Charges for Carers campaign aims to drive public and political support for Julie Cooper MP’s Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill 2015-16. Should the Bill be successful, it will place a duty on health authorities to exempt the 1.1 million carers who are currently in receipt of, or who are eligible for, Carer’s Allowance from paying car parking charges in hospitals in England.

Ahead of the Bill’s Second Reading in the House of Commons on Friday 30 October, the campaign has already achieved significant backing from over 1,000 carers and cross-party political support.

Julie Cooper, Labour MP for Burnley, says:

“Hospital car parking charges place an unfair burden on carers. Carers have told us that the emotional and financial impact of hospital parking charges seriously undermines their ability to continue caring well for their loved ones and themselves. This could be catastrophic for the NHS which, without carers, wouldn’t survive. The cost of providing carers with free hospital parking in England is negligible when compared with these potential consequences.

“With the huge demographic and financial challenges facing the NHS, it has never been more important to support carers. That is why I have put forward this Bill, urging politicians and health bosses alike to listen to what carers are telling them and park the charges for carers.”

Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

“We know that many people who care for a loved one end up in financial hardship because of their caring role. Visiting the hospital with someone you care for, perhaps during a crisis or a serious illness, can be a worrying, emotional and often exhausting time. As well as hospital parking charges having a clear financial impact on carers, the emotional impact should not be underestimated.

“Free hospital car parking is just one of the many ways that hospitals in England can better support carers. This issue is incredibly important to carers, without whom the health service would collapse. With the public’s support and backing from cross-party MPs, we can make a meaningful difference to the lives of carers and their loved ones.”

Whilst the majority of hospitals in England do not provide concessions or free parking for carers, some hospitals are putting carers first. Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust introduced a free parking scheme for carers in 2012, where carers could display a Carers Card in their car window in lieu of a parking ticket.

To find out more or to pledge your support for the Park the Charges for Carers campaign, visit www.carersuk.org/search/hospital-car-parking

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