The founding principle of the NHS was that it would offer free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare. Surely this should apply whether you go to hospital as a patient, as a visitor or a member of staff. It's simply not fair to expect patients or visitors to have to pay when they come to hospital, when they may be suffering personal anxiety, stress or grief. For this reason I have long spoken out against hospital car parking charges - though of course this now only happens in England as they have been scrapped in Wales and in Scotland.
According to the DoH the NHS should ended the last financial year with a £1.75 billion surplus, surely it would not be unreasonable to use a small amount of this total surplus to offset the £95 million that NHS Trusts took from car parking charges in 2008-2009? The reality thought is that the disparity in relation to car parking charges simply adds to the ever widening health care divide, under which patients in England are denied services and benefits enjoyed by those living elsewhere in the UK. For example in Scotland, NHS patients have access to more cancer drugs, benefit from free eye tests and get free personal care when elderly. In Wales prescriptions are free, while English patients must pay £6.85.
Labour needs to define what it is for as well as what it is against - framing policies around fairness and equity. The abolition of car parking charges at England's NHS hospitals would be a small, but 'emotionally' significant gesture and one that would illustrate that the party understands the worries and concerns of ordinary people.