Peter Lapsley: Hospital parking

Peter LapsleyCongratulations are due to Which? magazine for taking up the issue of hospital parking in their May issue. According to a survey they conducted recently, 49 percent of the public who had used NHS car parks in the previous two years had found that parking arrangements had made their hospital visits more stressful. The article invites readers to send them their hospital car parking stories and says that Which? will work to voice its members’ concerns and will call on the NHS to work on better systems for resolving issues such as finding a space, cost, and untangling confusing payment systems.

Such a campaign is long overdue. Hospital parking is widely recognised within the NHS as being amongst the commonest causes of complaints by patients, and the most frequently acknowledged and dismissed by NHS Trusts as being too difficult to resolve. That approach has always struck me as hopelessly defeatist.

Over the past couple of years, I have paid more visits to the Hammersmith Hospital in West London than I might have wished. Notices at the site say that Hammersmith & Fulham Council manage the main car park there on behalf of the Wormwood Scrubs Charitable Trust which, peculiarly, appears to be wholly owned by the Council.

Car parking payment has to be made on arrival. It is, of course, almost impossible to say how long a hospital appointment is likely to take. My own waiting times have ranged from 10 minutes to 2½ hours. It is necessary, therefore, if one is to avoid the risk of receiving a parking fine, to over-estimate the length of time one will have to wait and, as a result, almost inevitably to pay for (often significantly) more parking time than one has actually used. At £1.80 an hour, one must also have sufficient change, which can, of itself, present problems. The frustration thus caused is exacerbated by antiquated ‘pay-and-display’ machines which quite often swallow cash without delivering a ticket. In addition, of course, because it is a busy car park, as one car leaves, another takes its place, so that time already paid for is being paid for again, and presumably sometimes even for a third time.

However you look at it, this amounts to nothing less than fleecing the sick.

Fairer by far would be to be issued with a parking ticket on arrival and to be required to pay for the time used on departure, with a choice between paying by credit card or cash (change or notes) – the system now used at most supermarkets and in most other Pay & Display car parks.

A letter to Hammersmith & Fulham Council over a month ago suggested this but elicited no response – perhaps unsurprisingly given the amount of money the racket is raising for them. So, I have added this saga to Which?’s catalogue of patient parking woes. Other readers may wish to add theirs, too –—have-your-say/index.jsp.

Peter Lapsley is patient editor of the BMJ.