Trust rakes in £750k from two of its hospital car parks in just two years
The Western Trust made three quarters of a million pounds in just two years from two of its hospital car parks.
Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request reveal that in 2015/16 Altnagelvin Hospital's car parks in Londonderry brought in £261,980, and £283,382 in the 2016/17 financial year.
The South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen brought in £76,821 in 2015/16 and £100,952 for the 2016/17 financial year.
The two hospitals combined had an income of £723,135 over two years, which the Trust said is then fed back in to maintain its car parks - not front line patient services.
In October, the Western Trust board endorsed £3.1m in cuts, imposed by the Department of Health, as part of a £31m savings plan across all trusts.
Hundreds of people had attended heated public meetings in September and October to protest against the cuts and voice concerns over the impact on front line services, staff and the ability to deliver services and maintain safety on a smaller budget.
The cuts were agreed at an extraordinary meeting last month where the board announced an increase in car parking charges as one move to offset some of the cuts.
However, the Freedom of Information request reveals that the money patients and their loved ones pay to the car park is actually "reinvested back into Trust services", namely the management, maintenance and security at car parks, and does not help pay for front line medical services. Derry City and Strabane District Councillor Paul Gallagher said he was "astounded" by the level of income at the car parks and said the money "should be going into front line services".
He added: "I'm not aware of any five-star car parks in our hospitals. A car park is a car park - an open space. Where is the maintenance of three quarters of a million pounds for that?
"How many ambulances would that amount of money keep on the road? You hear about 999 calls coming in and they can't get to where they need to go because there are not enough ambulances.
"That money could buy a few more ambulances. The profit should be going into front line services and into patient care.
"It is incredibly frustrating to hear this. It sounds like a scheme to milk the sick and those visiting the sick."
The Trust said: "The Western Health and Social Care Trust can confirm that all income received from car parking is reinvested into Trust services.
"This income is used for payback on investment in car parking and to help cover costs in terms of the provision, management and maintenance of car parking including the associated security costs.
"The Western Health and Social Care Trust retains full management control of car parking on all Trust sites.
"On the Altnagelvin, Omagh Hospital and Primary Complex and South West Acute sites, the Trust has engaged a third party contractor - Car Parking Services (CPS) - to support the implementation of the Trust's car parking operational procedures.
"This contract was awarded following a competitive tendering exercise and was implemented in October 2016 and on the new Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex site in July 2017."
Regarding car park staff, the Trust said: "The Western Trust has a dedicated car parking co-ordinator role which sits within the Trust's site management service.
"This role has responsibility for car parking issues across the Altnagelvin, Omagh and South West Acute Hospital sites.
"The car parking co-ordinator works closely with CPS and is further supported on the individual sites by staff within the site management teams, including portering, at an operational level day-to-day and out of normal office hours."
Hospital car parking charges have largely been abolished in Wales and Scotland. However, charging is commonplace in England and the Republic.