Paying car parking charges when you are visiting an ill relative in hospital, or when you are admitted to hospital yourself from the emergency department, is an additional stress for many people.
The cost of paying for parking at hospitals is a particular issue for patients receiving ongoing treatment at hospital and for families visiting critically ill patients for long periods of time.
Ger Collins, an ambassador for Breast Cancer Ireland, says that car parking fees were an issue for her when she was attending Beaumont Hospital for appointments and scans in 2015. "I remember it was €13 for parking for the few hours I was there on the day I was diagnosed. I found that very frustrating. It's a lot of money when you're struggling emotionally and facing other expenses relating to your illness. I also think families visiting long-term patients should be informed about caps in car parking fees where they exist," says Collins.
In March 2018, Minister for Health Simon Harris announced a review of hospital car parking charges. The HSE prepared recommendations for hospital car parking the following November, but failed to publish them. A draft document showed how hospital car parking charges were due to be capped at €10 a day. And, although the plan was signed off by the HSE directorate in January 2019, many hospitals still haven't complied with some elements of the recommendations over one year later.
Hospital car parking charges is such an emotive issue that it got specific mention in some political party manifestos in advance of the recent general election. Fine Gael’s manifesto stated it wanted hospital car parking fees to have a daily cap of 10. Fianna Fáil’s manifesto promised free car parking at hospitals, while the Labour Party said it would like to see parking fees waived for patients having ongoing treatment in hospitals. Sinn Féin said in its manifesto that it would phase out all hospital car parking fees.
The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has been campaigning vigorously to reduce the expense of hospital car parking. The organisation believes that parking fees contribute to an already difficult financial toll on individuals undergoing cancer treatment. Because many cancer patients' treatment is on an outpatient basis, they have to attend hospitals frequently and use parking facilities at the hospital. The Real Costs of Cancer report in 2016 found that four out of five patients who faced car parking charges were paying €62 a month while having treatment.
Since that report, some hospitals have introduced reduced car parking rates for cancer patients. "Cork University Hospital reduced their charges for cancer patients to €5 per day," says Aishling Deegan of the Irish Cancer Society. "Naas General Hospital and South Tipperary General Hospital also now offer free parking for cancer patients. And Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda has offered greater guidance and transparency around reduced fees of €4 a day for cancer patients at their hospital."
However, the ICS remains concerned that information about discounted car parking – when it exists – isn’t clearly available to patients. “Patients should be informed of parking exemptions in their first appointment letter and concessions should be widely promoted and easy to understand and apply for,” says Deegan.
Currently, to receive discounted car parking rates, an email has to be sent from oncology or facilities managers to authorise discounts for cancer patients. The ICS would like to see clearer information about these discounts posted on websites, noticeboards and in the car parks themselves. “We have found that at many hospitals, there is a dearth of information about hospital car parking charges,” says Deegan. “Car parking charges come at a particularly vulnerable stage in someone’s cancer journey where they face mounting bills and many have told us it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
A study from the University of York on the impact of hospital car parking costs concluded that the stress caused by hospital parking is largely avoidable. It suggested that clear and easily assessable information on parking charges and policy, sources of financial support and the availability of permits or season tickets for regular users would help reduce the level of stress experienced by patients.
It remains to be seen whether the next government will make efforts to address the financial toll and emotional stress of hospital car parking costs for patients and families visiting ill patients.
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