National Comment Comment

The NHS, free at the point of use... until you park

The 'stealth tax' that is plaguing our National Health Service needs to be tackled

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Image: Cian O'Donovan

The National Health Service was created in 1948 with the ideal that everyone should be entitled to free health care, irrespective of income or wealth. In other words, the NHS should be free to use in the unfortunate event that you need medical attention.

I think knowing that is why I was so surprised to find out in the 2017 general election that not all parts of the NHS are free; I discovered the outrage that is hospital car park charges. Busy with my exams I soon forgot all about them, fast forward to last week and

I suddenly remembered about the issue when my mum and I had to pay £2.50 to park while visiting an ill family friend. I instinctively said "I don't think it's right that you should have to pay to visit your sick friend." All through our visit whenever we weren't talking I was sat by the bedside just thinking about how morally wrong hospital car park fees felt. I decided there and then to write this article.

Upon doing research I discovered that from 2016/17 hospitals made £174 million from car park charge. However, to my horror, I then found out that not only are people forced to pay, in many trusts regardless of being disabled or not, but hundreds of thousands of pounds from these charges went to private firms who run many of the car parks. Some people argue that as long as the money is going to the NHS they don't mind, but the reality is that vast sums of money are going to private companies!

Even if all the money raised did go to the NHS, having to pay for hospital car parking is still wrong. Imagine if you're in and out of hospital for three weeks, thus taking time off work, in Guilford you would have to pay £4 an hour; that would quickly add up. The whole basis of the NHS is that residents across the nation pay National Insurance Contributions so that when any person needs medical attention it will be free at the point of use. Why then are we charging parking fees to people who have driven to hospitals to seek medical help? Additionally, why do we charge visitors to come and see their sick friends and family members at such times of worry and potentially fear for their loved one's lives? Both visitors and patients have paid into the system however, when they need it, are then asked to pay an additional fee. This means that hospital car park charges are nothing less than a scandalous stealth tax on the sick and those who visit them.

I hope that by now you are feeling fairly annoyed that patients and visitors are being hit with this stealth tax, however if you're not then you should be when I tell you that it's not just them affected, it's also our NHS staff. In many hospitals NHS staff are forced to pay for hospital parking. We charge people, who save lives every shift, money to park when they're at work providing care to people who could just as easily be me or you. The same people who have been hit by the public sector pay freeze are still forced to pay this charge. So why do we have this outrageous "tax on sickness?"

Even Jeremy Hunt the Health Secretary has, in his own words, called hospital car park charges a "stealth tax". Despite this, a Department for Health official said that "NHS organisations are locally responsible for the methods used to charge." When Theresa May made her first speech as Prime Minister she pledged to fight injustices, yet the government has conveniently pushed this issue back to a local level. Instead of legislating on the issue and giving hospitals the funding they need so that they don't have to charge patients and visitors, the government have made their favourite move and announced a review. Free NHS parking would naturally cause new issues and problems to arise, but that challenge is not an excuse to keep the status quo. Patients, visitors and NHS staff need action not words, and the NHS that we all pay for must be free at the point of use for all and not a system in which those needing parking are forced to pay.

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