12 September 2009
Well over half (59%) of cancer patients are still not getting free or discounted parking when they visit hospital, according to new research by Macmillan Cancer Support, despite Government guidance strongly recommending this.
Under the guidelines hospitals are urged to offer free or discounted parking to patients with a long term illness, but it has not been made compulsory and parking costs continue to vary wildly across the country.
Mike Hobday, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
'The entire hospital parking system is an appalling, disjointed mess, which causes cancer patients unnecessary financial hardship and stress. It's clear that the Government's guidance isn't working and it's time to end the confusion and scrap this tax on illness for cancer patients in England once and for all.'
And even when hospitals do offer free parking or concessions, they are not publicising this well enough to cancer patients. In Macmillan's survey 23% of cancer patients said they were given free parking and 18% got a discount, however 12% of those said they didn't take this up because they only found out about it after their treatment had finished. Only 15% of those surveyed were given information about parking concessions in the letter telling them about their first appointment for treatment.
Shehnaz, 52, from Greater London, was hit by parking charges at her local hospital. She says:
'Going through treatment for ovarian cancer is tough enough but when you're worrying about hospital parking charges, too, it's so stressful. My worst moment was being hooked up to a chemotherapy line, realising that my ticket time was up but unable to move to do anything about it. I got to my car later and found a parking fine slapped on the screen. Appointments and treatment always run late and the last thing on my mind is whether I've got the right change for the machines and how long I'm likely to take.'
Mike Hobday continues:
'When they are in hospital to get life-saving treatment, vulnerable cancer patients are being hit with this extra and unavoidable cost at a time when they should be focussing on their health. Frustratingly, even when hospitals have got concessions in place, they are not telling patients about them.'
Colin, 73, Shropshire, says:
'My wife was in hospital for four weeks being treated for myeloma. It was a 70 mile round trip to be with her and then about £40 a week parking charges. There was no way of knowing what I was going to pay as prices weren't on display, I only found out at the exit barrier. I discovered later from another carer that I could have paid a reduced rate, but no one told me about this. I was turned down when I asked for a refund. It's hard to take on the authorities when you're feeling vulnerable. Shame on those who take that money.'
Hospital parking is already free for cancer patients in Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales is committed to providing free parking by 2011.
In addition, the Healthcare Travel Cost Scheme, an initiative which was set up to help people on lower incomes with the cost of travel to and from hospitals, hasn't been successful.
According to Macmillan's research only 23% of those surveyed were aware of it, and only 2% were told of its existence in their first appointment letter.
Visit www.macmillan.org.uk/parking to sign our petition to scrap parking charges.
***CASE STUDIES AVAILABLE***
For further information, please contact:
Anna Brosnan – Macmillan Cancer Support
0207 840 7818 (out of hours 07801 307068)
Notes to Editors:
1. The figures are taken from a Macmillan Survey 2009. The survey found that:
Over half (59%) of the 337 cancer patients surveyed by Macmillan said they did not get discounted, or free, parking at their local hospital.
23% got free parking and 18% got a discount, however 12% of those said they didn't take this up because they only found out after their treatment had finished.
When asked how they found out about the discounted or free parking, only 15% were told in their first appointment letter.
A third (32%) said they had to make savings in other areas in order to pay for the parking charges.
2. As part of the local decision making agenda in England, hospital trusts have been given responsibility to determine their own car parking policies. However the Department of Health issued guidance in December 2006, which states: 'NHS bodies are strongly recommended to have some kind of 'season ticket' arrangement, allowing free or reduced price parking for patients (and relatives/prime visitors of patients) with a long-term illness or serious condition requiring regular treatment.'
3. Patients make 53 trips to hospital on average during the course of their cancer treatment, spending an average of £325.
4. Cancer patients having regular treatment like chemotherapy should not be forced into paying parking charges when they have little choice. The unsuitability and unreliability of public transport and hospital transport, and the distance to specialist cancer centres, as well as greater risk of infection, mean that cancer patients often have no alternative but to travel to hospital by car.
5. Macmillan has been campaigning on this issue since 2004 and has had national successes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where parking charges have either been scrapped altogether or free parking for cancer patients has been introduced (NI).
6. 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year, that's 820 per day.
About Macmillan Cancer Support
Macmillan Cancer Support is a leading cancer charity supporting and improving the lives of people affected by cancer by providing practical, medical, emotional and financial support. For more information about Macmillan Cancer Support, visit www.macmillan.org.uk