CLIC Sargent submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to NHS Trusts across England after many families reported hospital car parking was one of the biggest extra costs they faced when a child is diagnosed with cancer.
Worryingly, the charity also found in their own Cancer Costs survey that a third of parents (29%) whose child was diagnosed with cancer said they were never offered a reduction in parking costs by their NHS Trust. Due to these failures, the survey also found parents are spending an average of £44 a month on hospital car parking costs, while young people spend an average of £37.
Government guidance states that frequent outpatient attenders, relatives of seriously or gravely ill patients and visitors to relatives who have an extended stay in hospital should be given free parking or reduced charges. The same guidelines also state that details of charges, concessions and additional charges should be well publicised.
CLIC Sargent's FOI request – which asked NHS Trusts in England whether they offered free or reduced parking and how they publicised discounts – uncovered that only 50% of trusts offer free parking to young cancer patients and their families.
London-based trusts fared the worst with less than half (45%) offering free parking and more than a quarter (27%) not offering any sort of reduction at all.
A minefield of misinformation
The charity also discovered that many trusts are not adequately promoting potential parking discounts with 38% reporting they only advertised the reduction in one place with 17% only promoting the discount on their website.
Kate Lee, Chief Executive of CLIC Sargent, said: "Speaking with families, it is clear car parking fees are a key worry and expense for parents of children with cancer and young cancer patients themselves. This added stress could be avoided but not enough hospital trusts are offering free car parking.
"But what makes the situation even worse is hospital car parking is a minefield of misinformation for parents who have enough on their mind. Information on available reductions on car parking should be crystal clear. Yet even when our team searched specifically for the information on different trust websites we struggled to find it or it simply wasn't there.
“This current situation isn’t right and it isn’t fair so I call on everyone to back our campaign for change. We want to ensure all young cancer patients and their parents who visit hospitals in England should be given free or reduced hospital car parking, in line with the other UK nations. And vitally, any concessions on offer should be better publicised and offered as soon as possible to young cancer patients and their families.”
While the majority of NHS trusts do offer some sort of reduction on parking during cancer treatment, CLIC Sargent is also concerned by the discrepancy between different hospitals' parking policies. CLIC Sargent found that prices to park for one hour ranged from £1 to £3.50 while daily rates ranged from £2-£40. The reductions on offer also vary greatly at each hospital with some offering as little as 40p an hour off.
Sara Donnelly, from Guildford, mum of 10-year-old Lucy Donnelly who had intensive treatment over a two year period for a Wilms’ tumour said: “Car parking fees are extortionate, there’s no compassion.
"We were paying £10 plus some days and going to the hospital regularly. It’s like taxation on people who are ill. The cancer experience is a horrible, lonely and sad time, you worry so much already without these added pressures. Hospital car parking fees are just one more thing to think about when you have enough on your mind.
“It’s like being a punch bag of bad news. First hit is: ‘your child has cancer’ and the second is: ‘now you have to pay hundreds of pounds for it.”
Kerry Young, from Beckenham, mum of eight-year-old Khianna who had treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), said: "It’s hard to find the information to make it cheaper; no one advertises it as they want to make money.
"The system is different at every hospital so once you've sorted it out at one hospital it’s a different rule for another and you are starting again. My child can’t walk far so you have to park as closely as you can but the closer you get, the more expensive it is."
CLIC Sargent is calling for NHS Trusts in England to ensure free or reduced parking is available at all hospitals where children and young people may be treated for cancer and vitally, available car parking concessions are better publicised.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Lidl UK has raised £1million for children and young people’s cancer support charity CLIC Sargent and is the lead sponsor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.