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Opinion: Hospital parking charges are taxing the sick, and poor George

Paying to park at our hospitals is to my mind downright wrong – or at least paying the extortionate fees they want us to pay.

I know it has been the subject of news headlines and campaigns in the past, but I want to add my two pennies’ worth.

I get hospitals need money to maintain the car parks, but surely charging a blanket £2 or £3 to park whether it's for one hour or all day would cover that.

What’s brought this to mind this week? Well, a train strike forcing a car journey to Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge – that’s what.

Normally I would take the train and then a bus out to the hospital which is inconveniently located on the other side of the city to us here in Fenland.

But the train drivers forced my hand, and a car journey it was.

Not only do those of us living in rural areas face lengthy – and costly – journeys to any of the hospitals that provide our care – but we also face the outrageous parking costs that go with those journeys.

We have no alternative living as we do between 20-something and 30-something miles (depending on where in Fenland we are) from all four of the hospitals (Cambridge, Peterborough, Huntingdon, and King’s Lynn) but to travel.

Public transport is not always an option as for one thing it’s not reliable, secondly, it is not always regular, and sometimes it is basically non-existent. It also involves a lot of waiting around and service changes along the way too. So not very convenient when all’s said and done.

So we rely on our cars to get to our appointments. As I said that is not cheap to start with, but when you then get to the hospital to discover that car parking is astronomically priced – I’m using a space not buying one – then it is wholly wrong.

My appointment this week lasted over two hours – which meant I crept into the next level two to four hours for the charge and that was a whopping £9.10.

I was literally into the two-and-a-half-hours mark so instead of paying £4.90 – the cost shot up to nearly double. Why if they feel the need to charge don’t they charge on the hour or even half-hour mark – so you are paying for what you have actually used? At least that would be a bit better.

It’s £3.10 for just one hour. Good luck if you are there all day – which could happen if you are in A&E and there is a long wait etc because then you’re facing paying £18.10 for up to eight hours.

How that can be justified I don’t know. I suspect part of it is they want us to use public transport and so prohibitive charges are one way of putting us off bringing our cars – fine if you live in Cambridge with its brilliant bus service offering journeys from just a £1.

But the cynic in me also thinks they see car parking charges as an easy money-maker – and that is wrong.

Addenbrookes’ car parks are operated by National Car Parks (NCP), who are no doubt paid a big fee for doing the job.

There are 1,050 spaces in car park one and some quick maths based on an average stay of two hours per bay (£4.90 fee), and they are operating 24 hours a day, which means one space could be occupied 12 times bringing in £58.80 a day – multiply that by 1,050 and the total is an incredible £61,740 a day or £432,180 a week – that’s £22,473,360 a year

How on earth is that right? I know the NHS is under financial pressure and needs more funding. But I think it is immoral to tax the sick and their relatives in this way – after all we are paying for the service through taxation to start with.

As I said at the start of this having a flat rate fee would be fairer, most people would not mind paying £2 or £3 to park and again if the average stay was two hours (£3 charged) then the income would still be £13,759,200 a year – not bad for doing nothing other than owning a multi-storey car park on a premium site…

I have said it before – MPs clearly are not living in the real world – if they were then they would know how the average family is struggling right now and we wouldn’t have some bloke rubbing our noses in it by saying he can’t afford to make ends meet on £118,000 a year.

A chance to have a go at that for most of us in Fenland is simply a pipe dream with the average wage about £5,000 a year less than the average annual salary in England – which in 2022 was £40,000.

If George Freeman MP for Mid Norfolk and now ex-science minister is struggling – how on earth does he think the rest of us are managing?

Apparently giving up his ministerial role – and so dropping down to the MP’s salary of £86,584 – means he can take on second and third jobs to help him balance the household books.

Again lucky George – who wouldn’t be happy with a salary of nearly £90,000 for a job that clearly is not even full-time if he is able to take on others?

One of the reasons he said he had to quit was his mortgage was jumping from £800 a month to £2,000. Most families are facing a similar hike in their mortgage costs – down to the rise in interest rates – which ironically was partially caused by his own party’s debacle over the Liz Truss premiership.

But unlike poor George, most of us do not have the option to take on second and third jobs as we are already working as many hours as possible and in many cases earning just the minimum wage to boot.

Don’t forget too, that George like all MPs, can claim allowances to cover the costs of maintaining either a home in the constituency or in London.

Ministers under the age of 65 are also entitled to a loss-of-office payment amounting to a quarter of their ministerial salary – so that ought to help him out a bit while he looks for that second job.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will get quietly on with scrimping and saving to pay our inflated mortgages and rents with our mediocre pay packets...

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