I had an appointment at the hospital today, and was thinking about the rates at the hospital car park. The parking area at big NHS hospital in my town has the highest parking rates around. They are probably more than double the rate at any other paid parking zone in the town.
At a first look, they seem extortionist. At most places, high parking rates are a nudge for users to either take an alternate means of transport, or to curtail their visits. At a hospital, however, few people visit by choice. Also, the visitors are more likely to use a car – comfort for the ill and all that. By charging these, probably ill, visitors these extraordinarily high rates, the hospital/NHS/council are just heartlessly milking the already suffering.
On a second thought, however, there is a valid reason behind these high rates – consumption tax. They are not just parking rates, they are an indirect tax on the heaviest NHS users.
It is well-known that a small percentage of patients consume a lot of NHS resources – frequent flyers making regular calls to 999, and elderly patients occupying hospital beds long after they need to because they do not believe they will get the care at home. Since care in the NHS is free, irrespective of how frequently, how long (or validly) a patient calls for it, this creates an imbalance, and puts undue pressure on NHS staff and budgets.
A means of preventing this tragedy of the commons, is to charge per-use fees. This however goes directly against the core mission of the NHS – free, universal healthcare. These extraordinary parking rates are then just a small marginal consumption tax on the users of the health service. It helps provide a little extra fund to the hospital, without burdening the non-user tax payers, or breaking the ‘free, universal healthcare’ promise of the NHS.
It’s harsh, but given the budget squeeze, and the tragedy of the commons, it appears a fair solution to me.
P.S.: Of course, I didn’t park there. I parked in the Tesco superstore car park across the road. For 10 mins of extra walk, I got three hours of free parking, and saved on a grocery shopping trip later.