HEALTH campaigners have welcomed plans that relatives of chronically ill patients at a Southampton hospital must be given free or cheap on-site parking under new rules announced by the Government.
Patients with disabilities and those with frequent appointments, as well as staff working shifts, will also benefit from the shake-up, according to Jeremy Hunt.
The Health Secretary said that new guidelines for English hospitals had been drawn up to put an end to the stress of “unfair” charges.
Trusts should waive fines when an overstay is beyond the control of the driver, such as treatment taking longer than planned, under the reforms.
Harry Dymond, of patient pressure group Healthwatch Southampton, said that he welcomed the proposals.
He said: “Obviously there is a problem and disabled patients at the General will benefit from this.
“In terms of the rest of the charges, from what I could gather I am not sure there are many other changes that will affect the hospital.
“When we were Southampton Link we questioned this with the hospital. Although there were concessions in place for disabled parking, it was not well advertised.
“It’s a good thing and the more we can do to encourage that the better.”
It is understood that Southampton General Hospital raked in more than £3m in charges in 2013, one of the highest sums in the country.
There are ten trusts in England that make more than £2m per year from parking, while 36 more bring in more than £1m.
Charges at Southampton General Hospital start at £2 for one hour and go up to £14 for between 12 and 24 hours.
There is also the option for long stay parking starting at £18 for seven days, ranging to £48 for 30 days.
HEALTH SECRETARY: Jeremy Hunt
Mr Hunt last month admitted that he had concerns about the fees being charged at some hospitals after being pressed by Conservative backbenchers to put an end to the “rip-off” costs.
The guidance sets out for the first time that hospital trusts are responsible for the actions of any privately contracted firms they use to run their car parking operations.
It also calls on hospitals to look at introducing pay on exit systems so that people only pay for the time they have used.
Added stress Mr Hunt said: “Patients and families shouldn’t have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges.
“These clear ground rules set out our expectations, and will help the public hold the NHS to account for unfair charges or practices.”
It comes as University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, is looking to revamp the front of the General and add more parking.
Hospital bosses want to create a two-level car park on the south-western side of the hos pital, close to Laundry Road.
This would allow car parking across the site to be redistributed, although only 23 extra car parking spaces would be created as a result.