Health chiefs urged to cut car park fees after three Norfolk hospitals make more than £3m profit from charges

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital car park from the air. Photo: Mike Page

A busy car park at the N&N. Photo: Mike Page - Credit: Submitted

A health minister has urged NHS chiefs to ensure regular visitors are exempt from car parking fees after it emerged that Norfolk's three main hospitals made more than £3m profit from charges last year.

Hospital bosses said they had no immediate plans to change charges after drivers forked out record sums during 2013/14 to attend appointments and visit family members.

Norfolk's three acute hospitals received £4.1m from parking fees last year and spent just over £800,000 on car park maintenance, according to new figures.

Two district general hospitals - the James Paget University Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn - saw their parking incomes surpass the £1m mark for the first time.

However, parking revenue at the county's biggest hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, saw a slight decrease from £2.1m in 2012/13 to £2m in the last financial year.

The new figures from a Freedom of Information request prompted politicians to urge hospital chiefs to ensure concessions or free parking is in place for those hit hardest by fees.

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and government care minister, said: 'There are clear national guidelines that say hospitals should not be charging patients who have to go regularly and I would want to make sure trusts are respecting that. It becomes a tax on care if they are charging people who are regularly going to hospital and that is completely unacceptable.'

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'Everyone knows the challenge we face in ensuring that we can sustain our vital NHS and this is not money going to a private company - it is money going into patient care and we need to remember that.'

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, added: 'Patients and families are understandably concerned about having to pay for parking especially because the NHS is supposed to be free at the point of use. However, I am all for honesty in the debate about the funding of the NHS and I would not wish for the hospital to lose important revenue, which I am sure is put to important use for patients.'

A spokesman for the N&N said there had been no change to visitor parking charges for the last ten years at the hospital, which has 7,000 staff and up to a million patients a year.

'Our charges for car parking are comparable relative to other hospitals and sites locally. Those charges pay for security, lighting and maintenance and reflect the cost of purchasing and owning the land on which the car park is situated. Any surplus goes back into patient care.'

A spokesman for the QEH added that there are were no plans to increase car parking charges and income from fees supported the operational running of the hospital, including the maintenance of car parks. Income went up from £999,417 in 2012/13 to £1,069,000 in the last financial year at the King's Lynn site.

A spokesman for the JPH said it was difficult to determine why income went from £912,952 in 2012/13 to £1,010,000 in 2013/14. Income is spent on a variety of projects, including parking and grounds maintenance, security, and CCTV.

'Car parking charges are reviewed annually. Our parking charges for visitors increased slightly in July 2014. We compare our parking charges with other hospitals in the region and our pricing is considered along with the service we provide,' said the spokesman.