By Leon Watson
Last updated at 12:46 PM on 16th October 2011
Hospital bosses are sparking a storm of protest from patient watchdogs by introducing charges on the disabled to use their car parks.
As cash-strapped NHS trusts struggle to balance their books, a growing number of hospital car parks have started charging blue badge holders for the first time.
Among the latest to abolish free parking for the disabled is Kidderminster Hospital, Worcestershire, and Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust in Merseyside will follow.
Up to now, badge holders normally parked for free while attending hospital appointments and visiting loved ones.
Hospital managers, who raked in more than £100 million in parking charges last year, say the move will raise much-needed extra revenue for patient care.
But patient watchdogs that claim hospitals are exploiting disabled patients and visitors, who now face being forced to pay parking fees of up to £7.50 per visit.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘Patients and visitors who attend hospital have for a long time been forced to pay heavy car parking charges.
‘But now we are hearing of hospitals who are scrapping free car parking for disabled people.
‘The Blue Badge scheme helps people with the most severe mobility problems and allows them to park close to where they need to go.
‘How can hospitals justify targeting this most vulnerable group? Where will this end?
‘Hospitals should be properly supported by the Government and should not be making ends meet by charging the most vulnerable members of society to park.
‘Car parking charges make a mockery of a service supposed to be free at the point of need and we urge the Department of Health to scrap these charges as they have been in Scotland and Wales and end this charge on being sick.’
At Kidderminster Hospital parking charges will now apply to all outpatients and visitors – £3 for a two hour stay, £4.50 for up to four hours, £6 for up to six, and £7.50 for six to 24 hours.
Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust is bringing in its parking charges for the disabled from the start of next month – while increasing short term fees for all drivers by 10 per cent.
David Skelton, of local disability rights group Southport Access for All, said: ‘Many disabled people are attending hospital several times a month.
‘This is going to be an extra tax on illness aimed at disabled people.’
The Department of Health says parking charges are set by individual NHS trusts.
Labour wanted to abolish parking charges in England to bring it into line with Scotland and Wales where it is free.
But the plan was ditched by the Coalition after last year’s election.