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Fra Mc Cann MLA invites your views on a Private Members' Bill which he is currently developing to abolish all car-parking charges in public hospitals across the north of Ireland.

There are 34 public hospitals across the north of Ireland with car parking charges in place at 12 (35%) of those hospital sites.

The five health and social care trusts across the north are responsible for establishing their own parking arrangements, charges and fines, and as a result inconsistencies and inequalities have developed in hospital car-parking charges.

Car-parking charges impose a financial burden, an unfair tax, on many health and social care (HSC) sector staff every time they go to work to deliver frontline care to patients in hospitals across the north. In the last year health and social care staff have had to strike for fair pay and conditions and in support of the need for safe staffing levels. They work in a health system that puts increasing demands on them given the ongoing and significant staff vacancies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the challenges facing HSC workers into sharp focus as they find themselves on the frontline of the battle against the pandemic. Having to pay for car-parking in their place of work amounts to a cut in their take home pay. While some car-parking charges for HSC staff have been suspended for periods during the pandemic, this need to be made permanent.

Hospital car parking is also very costly for people who have to attend hospital frequently. For patients, carers and family members these charges place unnecessary stress on people already experiencing the physical, emotional, and financial stress of ill-health. While some exemptions are in place they are not sufficient to address the financial burden on people with serious illness, their carers and their families.

Car-parking charges also disproportionately impact those from rural areas who are largely reliant on a car for transport. For many rural dwellers, public transport connectivity to hospitals is simply not sufficient as a means of getting to work for certain shifts or access treatment for specific appointment times. Similarly, the option of active travel to work, such as walking or cycling, is not practical given longer distances to travel in most cases.

Free parking would help alleviate some of the health inequalities experienced by those in more deprived communities across the north who experience higher rates of ill-health, are less able to afford the added costs of illness and are more financially vulnerable to parking charges.

The purpose of this bill is to create fairness and equality for all workers, patients, carers and families by providing free and accessible parking facilities at public hospitals.

This is consistent with a public health system that delivers services free at the point of delivery, based on need.

Further details and information regarding the Bill can be found in the Research and Information Service Briefing Paper NIAR - 372 -2020. The research paper is titled, Abolition of Hospital Care Parking Charges.

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* 1. Do you believe that hospital car parks should be free for (Comment below)

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* 2. Do you have experience of hospital charges?

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* 3. Do you believe hospital car park charges particularly impact on those from rural communities?

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* 4. Do you believe hospital car parking charges particularly impact on those from more deprived communities?

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* 5. Do you think free hospital car parks would have a significant impact on patient well-being?

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* 6. Do you believe that private car park operators should operate car parks at HSC Trust Hospitals?

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* 7. Which users should benefit from free hospital parking?

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* 8. To what extent do you support the ambitions of the Bill?

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* 9. Do you believe that the financial impact of the bill will be:

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* 10. Have hospital parking charges ever impacted you? If so, please explain briefly

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* 11. If you do NOT agree with the bill proposal,

a)       Please outline why.

b)      What additional measure would convince you to agree?

c)       What alternative proposal would you support in easing access to hospitals?

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