Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

An Open Letter to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock

Dear Secretary of State,

Many congratulations on your appointment as Health Secretary. I strongly welcome your plans to bring our hospital IT systems into the twenty-first century.

Today, I’d like to bring to your attention one major cause of social injustice in the NHS.

On Monday, together with the campaign group for motorists, FairFuelUK, two charities, CLIC Sargent (which looks after children with cancer) and Headway (which looks after those with head injuries), I presented a petition to 10 Downing Street, signed by over 26,000 people.

The petition calls for the abolition of hospital car parking charges.

CLIC Sargent’s Cancer Costs research shows families spend between £44 and £37 on average on hospital car parking. As the CEO of CLIC Sargent notes, only 50 per cent of hospitals offer a parking discounts scheme; what’s worse, only one in five hospitals notify patients on their website.

Headway’s motivation to back the campaign stems from awful stories of families spending more than £1,500 in parking fees in just 15 weeks. NHS doctors, nurses, porters and cleaners alike, must also not be forgotten; they too fork out significant portions of their hard-earned wages to park whilst at work.

Hospital car parking charges are a stealth tax on the sick, the vulnerable, on families, and our hard-working NHS employees. Nine out of ten FairFuelUK supporters want to see these unnecessary charges gone for good.

Of course, I understand that the Treasury’s response will be that scrapping hospital car parking fees will cost the Government about £200 million a year. I recognise that the NHS is stretched and welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment of an extra £20 billion a year for our NHS.

But surely, given this extra money, some (a relatively small amount) could be used to pay for hospital car parking charges? If you’re reluctant to dip into the £20 billion pot, how about taking some from the £1 billion that your predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, identified could be saved through hospital procurement?

The second objection is that, if free, hospital car parks may be taken advantage of, especially if close to the town centre or shops. But if we can send man to the moon, it is not beyond the wit of technology – of which you are a strong advocate – to develop number plate recognition or a token system, ensuring such abuse does not occur. In fact, you don’t even need to go as far as the moon – supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl operate their car parking spaces efficiently, through receipt validation.

To those worried about crowded hospitals, it is worth noting that, often, in order to avoid charges, motorists park in nearby residential streets, making it near impossible for homeowners to park close to their home. What usually happens, is that the council then introduces a parking permit, forcing residents to pay to park outside their front door.

I said earlier that I welcomed the £20 billion, I do. But, so often as a Government, we make grand, sweeping spending announcements, which are hard for most people to quantify. What does £20 billion actually mean? What impact will £20 billion have on an ordinary NHS user? Sometimes, we forget that it is possible to spend far less, but in a way that impacts almost everyone, and makes a real difference to people’s lives.

Scrapping hospital car parking charges will have just that positive impact on millions of lives, and shows the public that we really do care about the NHS.

Most people go to hospital, not by choice, but out of necessity. In many cases, there isn’t any suitable public transport. But even where there is, for the elderly, those with a disability and families with children, travel by car offers ease and convenience.

We’re proud to have an NHS that is free and funded by general taxation, yet we say to people travelling by car, that they must pay a stonking, additional tax. Even worse, we say this to the disabled, with nearly 50 per cent of hospitals charging blue-badge holders.

Despite NHS guidelines brought in in 2014 to ensure a fairer system for hospital car parking fees, it’s just not working. In 47 per cent of hospitals up and down our country, charges have increased!

That’s why I, and a range of charities and organisations, are urging you to scrap this unjust NHS stealth tax on motorists once and for all. Why not make a real difference to millions of hospital users across our country?

Yours sincerely,

Robert Halfon,

MP for Harlow