Mike Hill MP: All hospital car parking should be free of charge

Concerns over hospital parking charges. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Concerns over hospital parking charges. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

It was a cold, dark evening in Lancashire in February 2016 and black ice covered the car park of Fairfield Hospital in Bury.

I’d spent all night sleeping and not sleeping on the floor of my Dad’s side room keeping my Mum company and had nipped home to get some proper rest when the dreaded call came.

Back up to the hospital at speed and dropping my brother and sister off at the door, I missed his passing by seconds. Why? Because I needed to feed the meter.

Over the period of my Dad’s short stay in hospital, I had paid out a fortune in parking charges, as had all of my family, and while we moaned and groaned about it, nothing hit me harder than actually not being in the room when he took his last breath. That hurt a lot and I felt cheated by it.

Hospitals are places you chose not to go to ordinarily. Whether it’s operations, tests, emergencies or births, it is a place we have to go to in order to be looked after.

In all circumstances, the last thing we need to do is worry about whether we or our relatives have the right change or can afford to pay for parking.

Recent figures show that hospitals across England have made £174million out of car park charges, and yet in Wales and Scotland under devolved Governments, parking is free.

Our own NHS Trust covering Hartlepool Hospital has raked in over £6million in three years. Ironically, the mental health trust that covers Hartlepool has a policy of providing free car parking for patients, visitors and staff.

To put this into perspective, you can throw a stone from the free car park at Roseberry Park Hospital in Middlesbrough and it will land in one of the many pay and display zones at James Cook Hospital; it’s ludicrous!

I never want to see anybody else go through what I had to, in being an honest citizen last February, which is why I support the principle that all hospital car parking should be free of charge.

l Almost one in four parents are skipping meals because they cannot afford to buy food, according to a report released by End Hunger UK.

That is a truly shameful state of affairs and throws stark light on everyday reality for many folk in Hartlepool.

As I have commented before, there are people across the town frequently using food banks and soup kitchens, like the one at St Aidan’s. Food poverty is a sad reality in 21st century Britain.

l On a more positive note, on Monday myself and Richard Lee, father of Katrice Lee, had a very productive meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence about her disappearance 36 years ago, and on Tuesday we celebrated in Parliament 100 years to the day that women first got the vote.

l It was also the day that I was able to put questions to Katie Price, who was giving evidence to our Petitions Committee enquiry into online abuse.

More than 220,000 people have signed a petition instigated by her calling for online abuse to be a specific criminal offence.

This was a subject dear to her heart, not because as a celebrity she is subject to abuse herself, but as a mother because her disabled son Harvey has been the victim of the most harrowing and horrific online attacks. There were the usual press and cameras following her around, but she was a most impressive witness and certainly gave us MPs a lot to think about.