Revealed: The truth about hospital parking in the West Midlands
Hospitals in the Black Country and Staffordshire are charging visitors up to six times more for an hour's parking than at their nearest public car parks.
People are being made to fork out up to £2.60 for a short stay stint at their local hospital - yet can park on a council car park for as little as 40p.
Politicians in the Black Country have grown increasingly frustrated by spiralling hospital parking charges, leading to calls for Government intervention.
Sandwell Hospital and Dudley's Russells Hall Hospital currently charge the most for an hour's parking at £2.60.
With council car parks across Sandwell charging just 40p for an hour, this means people living in the borough are being charged more than six times more for a short stay at their local hospital.
It's a similar story in Dudley, where motorists can pay just 60p for an hour at a council car parks. Rates at Russells Hall Hospital were recently raised, with an hour's parking increasing from £2 by another 60p.
Charges are slightly lower at Wolverhampton's New Cross Hospital, with visitors made to pay £2.30 for an hour. But council car parks in the city centre charge as little as 60p for the same amount of time, though bosses at New Cross pointed out that their long-stay prices are cheaper than many city centre car parks.
The gulf is smallest in the Black Country in Walsall where the Manor Hospital charges £2 for an hour. People parking on council car parks in the town must pay for up to two hours, which costs either £1 or £1.10.
Loved ones visiting their family members in distressing circumstances can expect to shell out more than six times the hourly rate at NHS sites around the Black Country and Staffordshire compared to council-run sites.
The defence from hospital bosses seems to be that their prices are in line with the average charges across the health service.
This is no defence at all and fails to address this pressing issue.
Where is the compassion?
It is unacceptable for those looking out for their relatives to be paying through the nose simply to visit.
We appreciate that hospitals are facing unprecedented demand on their services without an unlimited pot of cash to match.
But it is not acceptable to use car parks as an income stream to supplement NHS coffers.
This profiteering is absolutely wrong. There must be another way.
The pertinent question is: why does it cost £2.60 an hour to park at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley when a few miles away it is just 40p at council-run car parks in Sandwell?
Those who have relatives with long-term illnesses could be forking out hundreds of pounds a year. It is not fair and it is not right.
Hospitals should be able to cover their costs, but they shouldn't be allowed to use hidden charges to get themselves out of financial black holes.
This, in effect, amounts to a tax on the sick and their families.
Going to hospital is a stressful enough experience already, without the added burden of hard-to-find, overpriced parking, with the threat of punitive parking fines.
It is not too much to ask that hospital bosses stop seeing car parks as cash cows. Patients and their families are already handsomely paying for their NHS services through income tax and National Insurance payments.
They should not be expected to cough up through excessive double taxation.
The Department of Health has issued new guidelines advising hospitals to offer concessions, including free or reduced charges or caps for people with disabilities and illnesses such as cancer.
This is a step in the right direction but more action is urgently needed.
At Stafford County Hospital, visitors can park for a comparatively cheap £1.60, which is 60p above council rates.
The gap between what hospitals and councils charge begins to even out the longer the motorist stays on the car park, but more often than not it remains more expensive at the hospital.
But it is not just councils that are allowing motorists to park at reasonable rates.
Private car parking firm NCP allows motorists to park in Church Street, Wolverhampton, for an hour for just 50p, leading to questions over why hospitals are charging sky-high prices.
After charges rose at Dudley's Russells Hall Hospital, the town's MP Ian Austin said he would call on the Government to take action.
Dudley councillor Bill Etheridge, who famously quit his role as a hospital governor over the issue, branded the price hike 'utterly disgusting'.
He said the charges 'go against the principles' on which the NHS was founded.
"Hospital parking charges are absolutely shameful. The NHS should be true to its values and should be a free service for all, and that includes parking," he said.
"If you you are in a situation where you have to go to an important appointment or are visiting an ill relative you should not be charged through the nose to be there."
Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital Trust, which runs Sandwell Hospital, said its rates were 'fixed at the average rate for hospital trusts in the West Midlands' and that lengthy stays are 'deliberately set below other organisations'.
The Royal Wolverhampton Trust, which runs New Cross, said tariffs were compared with other hospitals each year and that the 'charges reflect this comparison'.
Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust said its rates were 'comparable to trusts in the local area' and offers weekly concessionary passes.
University Hospitals of North Midlands, which runs County Hospital, said fares were set to ensure maintaining car parks do not impact on finances allocated for patient care.
The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Russells Hall, declined to comment.
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