NHS car parking charges have recently been debated in the House of Commons, and the Hospital Car Parking Charges (Abolition) Bill will soon be considered for its second reading. What do we know about how many hospitals charge for parking in England, and how much they charge?

What kind of hospitals charge for parking?

In the recent debate, it was noted that 67% of NHS sites don’t charge for parking. Data on this is published as part of the NHS’s Patient-Led Assessments of the Care Environment (PLACE) dataset, which shows that 391 sites – 33% of the total – charged for patient and visitor parking in 2017. However, this isn’t the full story.

First, the PLACE dataset includes independent sector providers, which provide some services on behalf of the NHS but aren’t NHS sites. Second, it includes hospices, which receive most of their funding from non-NHS sources. Very few independent sector sites or hospices charge for car parking. If we exclude these from the data, then the percentage of NHS sites charging for visitor parking rises to 40%.

NHS trust sites come in different types and sizes, and most are run by either mental health and learning disability trusts or community hospital providers. These sites are not usually where a patient would go for a typical inpatient or outpatient appointment. They are typically smaller than large hospitals and most don’t charge for car parking. Only 26% of community hospitals and 15% of mental health and learning disability sites charge for patient and visitor parking.

Most NHS hospital care is delivered at acute hospital sites. 95% of inpatient admissions, 81% of inpatient bed days and 88% of outpatient attendances are at acute hospitals. So if you’re parking at an NHS site, the chances are you’re parking at an acute hospital. These sites are much more likely to charge for visitor parking, with 94% (222 of 237) reporting a charge in 2017.

Note that most sites where charges are levied for patient and visitor parking do offer some kind of concessionary rates.

And how many spaces are available?

So far we’ve counted all sites as equal, no matter how large or small they are. But if we instead look at the number of car parking spaces available, rather than the number of sites, the picture changes. Larger sites with more car parking spaces are more likely to charge for visitor parking. This means that 88% of all NHS car parking spaces, and 99% of all acute hospital car parking spaces, are located at sites that charge for visitor parking.

Note that data on the number of parking spaces isn’t available for 20 acute sites, 17 community sites, 45 mental health & learning disability and 4 mixed service sites, so these aren’t included here. Data also isn’t available for hospices or independent sector providers. The number of car parking spaces is published in the Estates Return Information Collection (ERIC).

How much is charged?

Data on the cost of NHS car parking is also published as part of ERIC. This shows that the average hourly fee was £1.29 in 2016/17 for sites that charged for parking. For acute sites the average is slightly higher, at £1.37, and for mental health and community sites the averages are £1.03 and £1.08 respectively. Four-fifths of sites charge at least £1 per hour, and 40 sites charge £2 or more per hour.

Average fees are highest in London, at £1.71 per hour, followed by £1.41 in the West Midlands. Fees are lowest in Cumbria and the North East, at £1.02, followed by Cheshire and Merseyside at £1.06. Most of the sites charging the highest fees are also in London. The two exceptions in the top 10 are Lister Hospital in Stevenage and Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge.

Data is also available on average parking costs for staff. These tend to be lower, with an average of 19p per hour for sites that charge. However, 13 sites charge an average of £1 per hour or more for staff parking, and 27 charge 50p or more per hour.

The ERIC collection also indicates whether sites charge for disabled parking. Overall, 12% of sites said that they charge for disabled parking. At sites operated by acute NHS trusts, this rises to 26%.

How much does the NHS earn from car parking charges?

Data on the total income from NHS car parking charges isn’t collated and published centrally, although some NHS trusts publish details in their annual report. While surveys of a subset of trusts in England have been carried out, these don’t provide comprehensive information.

It’s important to note that NHS trusts don’t receive a specific budget for car parking operations, so income will often be used to offset the cost of providing car parking.

What about the rest of the UK?

NHS car parking charges in Wales and Scotland have been abolished, but there are some exceptions for specific hospitals where existing contracts were in place. In Northern Ireland, decisions on whether to charge are made by individual trusts. See our briefing paper for more information.

Local data

Data for all participating hospital sites in England is published by NHS Digital as part of the PLACE and ERIC publications.

Image credit:

Record shot by Ron Adams.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 / image cropped.