Pay as your loved ones suffer: Hospital car parks a sick joke

14 Jan

Last summer I spent four days in Elche Hospital as a guest of the Spanish health service – and my only complaint was that the food was inedible. I bet you’d also cringe at the thought of a salad or bowl of clear soup devoid of a single grain of salt.

I’ve sucked tastier water from a dishcloth than the ultra-bland consommé the nurse plonked in front of me as an aperitif to my menial first meal as a patient.

There was method in that Friday afternoon madness, of course. Because I was in a coronary ward and I do have angina. But even my acutely health-conscious daughter has been unable to convince me that I’m shortening my life by going condimental before I tuck in. I do make one concession to the medical experts, mind you – I NEVER put salt on my dessert.

In the event, I was discharged from hospital the following Monday three kilos lighter after passing my medical tests with flying blood pressure (another abysmal Donna attempt at humour – my BP was actually normal, thanks to the medication I’ve been taking for the past five years). I couldn’t wait for my first taste of f

reedom and dreamt of ending my enforced diet with a portion of salt- and-pepper ribs and a salt-beef sandwich. Maybe with a packet of liquorice ‘all-salts’ for afters.

But I digress. This article is not meant to be a complaint about Spanish hospitals – or the heartless way they feed their cardiac patients. There was certainly precious little else I could moan about as a patient at Elche. A cosy two-bed ward, caring nurses, highly efficient doctors, caring nurses and four days of intensive Spanish lessons for free.

Hospital stays: My granddaughter Daisy

Last but not least, my friends were not charged a single centimo to come and visit me. And from what I can gather from friends on expatforum.com the same free-parking policy operates at Spanish hospitals  from Malaga to Lorca and from Denia to Villajoyosa.

How different to the money-grabbing English system of fleecing  motorists at every opportunity. Airports are even worse than hospitals as car-park rip-off merchants but that’s another story.

My 11-year-old granddaughter Daisy suffers from Crohn’s Disease and has spent quite a bit of time at Manchester’s ultra-modern Royal Children’s Hospital this past couple of years. The kindly local NHS Trust have a voucher system that allows close relatives to visit sick children to use the vast multi-storey car park at a special daily rate of £5.

That’s £35 a week to spend time with your own kids when they need you most. How generous!

And don’t tell me the money all goes to improve the NHS. In a country where every working person pays an ever-increasing National Insurance contribution, surely NO-ONE should have to pay to visit a suffering relative.

Scotland and Wales abolished hospital parking charges a couple of years ago – so what’s so different about England? The authorities are just greedier to make bigger profits, that’s all.

As my daughter Hayley Beckman (Daisy’s mother) says: ‘‘The new hospital is very modern but it’s difficult to get to compared to the two children’s hospitals it replaced, and much more expensive to park.

‘‘It’s absolutely disgraceful that parents have to pay to spend time with their sick children in hospital.’’

It’s not as if Manchester Children’s University Hospital NHS Trust is in dire financial straits. Indeed, a Daily Mirror investigation established that in 2007, the Trust made a profit of £1,338,694. And 218 hospitals around the country made a staggering £24,993,855 the same year – just by charging their own staff to park their cars.

At the time, Juliet Dunmur, chair of the British Medical Association Patient Liaison Group, said: ‘‘The car-parking fees charged by some NHS trusts are unacceptable. It amounts to a tax on vulnerable patients and on NHS staff.’’

And hospital visiting is an increasingly-expensive experience. Recent research by the Action for Sick Children charity revealed that parking for families of children now costs £1.75 an hour on average.

It’s bad enough in Manchester, but at two London hospitals the parking tariff works out at an unbelievable £386.40 a week because there are no discounts for long-term stays.

At many hospitals, it’s not just visitors who get stung. Nurses working at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital must pay £20 for a weekly car-park pass – or leave their cars a mile or more away.

Still, there is a consolation. With all that enforced walking, they can afford to pour oodles of salt on their food and never worry about getting a dicky heart.

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