Friday 18 January 2019

Hospital car parking fees to be capped

Minister Harris to introduce €10 daily rate to ease burden on families visiting ill loved ones

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Hospital car parking charges will be capped at €10 per day, under new plans being introduced by Health Minister Simon Harris.

Hospitals will also be required to introduce discounted multi-day passes for relatives, guardians and friends who frequently visit patients in long-term care. This could include a consecutive two-day car parking pass for €10, a five-day pass for €20 or a 15-day pass for €35.

Hospitals will also be asked to introduce car parking passes which will allow visitors to park on 10 separate occasions over a three-month period.

However, the abolition of car parking fees has been ruled out in the report to be published soon.

The review also recommends the introduction of more advanced technology for hospital parking, such as a system which will allow people to pay by text or apps, allowing visitors to top up with their smart phones.

The new charging system follows a long-running public debate over the fees charged to those visiting patients.

The overhaul of parking costs will come as a relief to those who regularly visit patients. Minister Harris ordered a report into car parking fees in March and received the final review in recent days.

The plan was signed off by the HSE directorate last week and will be part of the agency's 2019 service plan.

Hospital managers have been asked to set out their plan for introducing new charging regimes within the next three months. Individual plans for each hospital will be accepted but they will have to adhere to the recommendations in the report.

The changes are set to affect the 17 hospitals where patients are charged for parking. A massive €22.5m was raised from car parking charges in 2017 and it is expected the changes will cost around €4.75m.

The review found it would be too costly to eliminate all parking fees. There are also concerns people who are not visiting hospitals might take advantage of the free parking.

Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin has the most expensive car park, where people visiting sick youngsters are charged €3.20 for the first hour. However, there is a capped daily rate of €10.50. There is also a €35 weekly rate for parents and guardians.

University Hospital Kerry charges €3 for the first hour and has a daily cap of €12. It also has a €35 seven-day rate. The Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise also charges €3 for the first hour, the report says.

The report notes there are nine hospitals where there is no charge for parking and other hospitals have existing capped daily rates.

Hospitals which do not charge people for parking while visiting the hospital have been asked to continue to do so.

It also notes some hospitals offer the first 20 minutes free and only charge after that time as expired. Other hospitals charge flat hourly rates while others increase or decrease the hourly rate depending on the length of the visitors' stay.

A spokeswoman for Minister Harris said: "The Minister requested the HSE to carry out a review of hospital car parking charges with a view to establishing clear national guidance and principles for hospitals in this regard.

"The Minister requested that the HSE engage with patient advocacy groups to ensure that the review took account of the clinical circumstances of all patients who require long-term care. Some hospitals do take into account the pressure these charges can put on patients and families, but the Minister believes there should be a roll-out of national guidelines in this regard.

"He has now received the report from the HSE and looks forward to progressing with its recommendations in 2019," she added.

Sunday Independent

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