2024 free car parking plan for all Northern Ireland hospitals may be overturned

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Previously passed legislation to scrap car parking fees at hospitals across Northern Ireland in 2014 may now come to nothing after the Department of Health announced it is consulting on reinstating them.

The new eight-week consultation follows a direction from the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris requiring NI departments to launch public consultations on revenue raising measures.

Income from car parking charges is currently used to cover provision and maintenance costs. However, this is supposed to change from May 2024 when parking charges will be removed following legislation passed by the previous NI Assembly.

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The Department of Health said providing and maintaining car parking services will cost the health service in the region of £10 million annually, and as well as looking into bringing the charges back before they have even ended, the department also said there may be new restrictions on free parking for staff.

Altnagelvin Hospital.Altnagelvin Hospital.
Altnagelvin Hospital.

The Department said it is now seeking views from the public and all interested parties on the ‘Re-introduction of Hospital Parking Charges’ claiming this would be ‘a fair and appropriate measure’.

If adopted, car parking charges would be restored to the current rates.

A Department spokesperson said: “The existing policy already includes free and concessionary parking for patients on a particular care path. If charges were to be re-introduced, these measures would be re-established and others could also be considered.

“This may include, for example: Enhancing exceptions for persons with a diagnosis of a terminal illness and relatives of in-patients who are terminally ill and/or receiving end of life care; Enhancing exceptions for patients with mental health disabilities and those accessing addiction services as parking charges may act as a barrier to access treatment; Providing 30 minutes of parking free across all chargeable sites which will help staff and public set down and collect persons/items; Providing free staff parking to permitted pass holders. Modernised payment systems.”

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Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris.Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris.
Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris.

“As outlined in the consultation document, demand on health and social care services is outstripping capacity and the provision of free car parking from May 2024 will further reduce the Department’s ability to fund services. In addition, due to increased budget pressures, car parking revenue currently used to fund free off-site staff parking, and park & ride schemes, may have to be restricted, potentially reducing the overall amount of parking spaces available.”

The consultation can be accessed at www.health-ni.gov.uk/consultations. The consultation period will run for eight weeks, closing on January 9, 2024.