'Tax on sick': €1m a month collected in parking charges at public hospitals
Patients and visitors are now shelling out more than €1m a month in car parking charges at HSE-run hospitals, new figures reveal.
The public hospitals collected nearly €13m in just a year from the unpopular charges, which have been described as a 'tax on the sick'.
A public petition by the Irish Cancer Society, signed by more than 3,300 people, has now called for the charges to be scrapped for cancer patients and their families.
The massive figure in out-of-pocket payments, which can add to the stress of patients already coping with illness and treatment, does not include the money generated by several voluntary hospitals such as St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, where the charge can be up to €14 a day.
The HSE confirmed there is still no national policy governing hospital car park charges.
"However, the HSE continually monitors and reviews all its charges to ensure that they are appropriate," it said.
In the UK, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now backing a campaign to have hospital car parking charges in England abolished. Scotland and Wales have already led the way and their hospital parking remains largely free.
The extent of the car parking bill in HSE-run hospitals - which was revealed in a parliamentary reply to Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane - shows Cork University Hospital took €3.1m in car parking in 2016.
It charges €2.70 an hour and a maximum of €15 a day.
University Hospital Waterford generated €1.5m. It charges €4 for up to three hours and €6 for four hours, with a maximum levy of €8 a day.
Car parking charges are also a big earner for University Hospital Galway, which collected €1.3m last year.
Sarah Anderson, of the HSE's Finance Directorate, said local arrangements for car parking are managed by hospitals and the rates are not collated nor held centrally.
She said paid parking was introduced in many hospitals over the past decade. Several hospitals have outsourced the running of car parks to private firms.
"Car park charges were introduced as part of a series of measures to ensure the cost of the provision of such services was not taken from a hospital's operating budget. The income generated is an important stream of funding to hospitals to ensure continued provision of health services," she added.
Last year the Irish Cancer Society called on the HSE to provide free parking for cancer patients.