Editor's Viewpoint: Hospital car parking fees need reviewed
There is something distasteful about charging visitors, patients and staff to park at hospitals. No one, apart from the latter, voluntarily goes to hospitals. They are there of necessity and often in very distressing circumstances.
Allowance is made for cancer patients, who get free parking, along with those who care for them. That is a necessary concession given that treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy can be prolonged and often have to be undertaken every day.
It would be scandalous to charge such patients or visitors for attending hospital for lifesaving or life-prolonging treatment. There is a similar case to be made for those who receive dialysis, who again receive prolonged and regular treatment.
However, it can be argued that some charge is necessary for the upkeep of car parking facilities and the payment of rates. Otherwise those funds would have to be found from front line budgets.
One saving grace is that the charges are pitched at a reasonable level compared to those in commercial car parks. But even with concessions they mount up for the thousands of staff who use the service daily.
Many must feel hard done by in having to pay to park at their place of work at a time when their own salaries have been losing value in real terms because of the cap on public pay.
They will look at the huge pay packets for some public health officials - with three in Northern Ireland each earning over £100,000 (one of them more than £200,000) - and wonder how funding can be found for those posts while those at the coalface of healthcare under the most trying of circumstances are having to endure austerity.
One of the reasons put forward for car parking charges is that commuters regularly use the car parks and then take public transport onwards to their places of work. That is an abuse of the system in two ways - availing of cheaper parking charges and taking up valuable spaces which are needed by patients and their carers.
It is difficult to police car parking to ensure that only patients, visitors or staff are using the spaces. Perhaps there should be a time limit put on parking and patients or visitors who are delayed longer could be given exemption tickets. That would enable car park staff to identify those abusing the system, and perhaps a system of fines might also act as a deterrent.