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Potential U-turn on free hospital parking in Northern Ireland

A promise to drop car parking charges at hospitals in Northern Ireland is being rowed back as the country seeks to shore up its finances.

New legislation is set to come into force in May 2024 that will make parking free across Health and Social Care (HSC) hospital sites for all staff, patients and visitors.

“It is likely that some current hospital services will have to be reduced or even stopped”

Department of Health consultation

However, the Department of Health (DoH) is now proposing to repeal this legislation – The Hospital Parking Charges Act (2022) – and to carry on charging for car parking instead.

Retaining the parking charges would save the DoH £10m a year.

The proposal to repeal The Hospital Parking Charges Act is being put out to consultation for the next eight weeks, closing on 9 January 2024.

It comes after the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, wrote to civil service departments directing them to launch public consultations on revenue-raising measures.

In the consultation document, titled Re-introduction of Hospital Parking Charges, the DoH said: “The department is already facing a significant funding gap in its future years financial position and the approximately £10m recurrent costs, which will no longer be funded by charges, will add to the pressures and require reductions to services.

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“It is likely that some current hospital services will have to be reduced or even stopped, with a resulting impact on patient care and waiting lists.

“In view of the financial environment and the impact on public services, this consultation proposes that the 2022 act should be repealed and the current charging policy re-introduced.”

It added that existing concessions and exceptions would be retained, and more could be added if the charging system stayed.

One additional concession that the DoH is considering, and which is cited in the consultation document, is the provision of “free staff parking to permitted pass holders”.

Car parking charges for HSC staff were temporarily dropped in Northern Ireland during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic but later reinstated. A similar move was also made in England.

Wales abolished NHS parking fees in 2008, followed by Scotland in 2009.

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