This week I was deeply disturbed to read the publication of East Lancashire Hospitals Travel Strategy Implementation Plan, which proposes to end free parking for disabled hospital users at Burnley General Hospital and Blackburn Royal. These plans are a kick in the teeth for the most vulnerable hospital users and will see blue badge holders forced to pay to park at hospitals in Burnley and Blackburn.
As you may know, I have long campaigned for carers to be able to park for free at hospitals and medical facilities. Last year I led the Park the Charges campaign to support those carers who often have to visit hospitals several times a week paying over £40 a week in hospital parking charges, despite many carers surviving on just £62.10 per week. In October last year I introduced a private members bill which would have forced the Government to exempt carers from hospital car parking charges. The bill was unsuccessful and blocked by Tory backbench MPs, with one MP citing he did so for ‘fun’.
Despite the Bill’s defeat I have continued to campaign and make the case, not just for carers, but for everyone, that the NHS was established to be free at the point of need. Such parking charges undermine that very freedom for thousands of patients and their carers. It cannot be right to force the most vulnerable hospital users to effectively subsidise the NHS.
The report, which is currently being considered also proposes to introduce new car parking charges at Pendle Community Hospital, Accrington Victoria and Clitheroe hospital, all facilities that are regularly used by residents in Burnley and Padiham. In my view these plans are an absolute disgrace. I have already written to the Chief Executive of the Trust to express my deep opposition to the plans and I will be raising the whole issue of NHS funding with the Secretary of State for Health, as well as continuing to fight these plans both locally and in Parliament.