FREE parking is being reintroduced at Winchester’s Royal Hampshire County Hospital (RHCH) for certain patients and visitors, it has been confirmed.

The Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT) which runs the hospital, as well as those in Basingstoke and Andover, confirmed the decision for those receiving concessionary rates.

The trust, which has a turnover of £385m a year, said it made the move after hearing the concerns of patient groups.

Alex Whitfield, chief executive, said: “I know people feel very strongly about parking charges when they attend hospital and even the concessionary rates we were charging were challenging for some patients.

“We heard concerns from particular groups, for example patients coming for chemotherapy and parents and carers of children who are in hospital. Because we take feedback from our users very seriously, we have reviewed our charges, and made the decision to offer free parking to those users who had previously been charged reduced rates.

“Our parking charges go directly into helping us fund patient care, and we know that other hospitals do charge concessionary rates, but we feel this is the right decision for us and our patients.”

HHFT confirmed those who will receive free parking include:

  • Patients attending for chemotherapy;
  • Patients/visitors attending every day after one week of attendance, or outpatients who have been attending for more than two weeks and continue to attend at least twice a week with the same illness or condition;
  • Visitors to patients being cared for in the Intensive Care Unit or the neonatal unit, to inpatients whose stay in hospital has been more than one week, providing they are visiting every day, or to inpatients whose stay in hospital has been two weeks or more, providing they are visiting at least twice per week;
  • Carers staying overnight with children who are inpatients;
  • Relatives or carers of patients who are receiving end of life care.

Frankie Webb, chairman of the Cancer Services Partnership group, said “We are delighted the trust have listened to the views not only of our group, but other important voluntary care and support groups in the hospital’s area.

“This vital change will not only reduce costs for cancer patients but also reduce their stress at what is already a very stressful time for them.”

Last December, HHFT came under fire after it saw more than £1.25million generated through parking in the year to April 2017.

Parking revenue at the trust’s hospitals soared by £224,409, an increase of nearly 22%.

Those figures followed a drop in 2015/16 with £1,026,846 being generated, compared with £1,157,227 the previous year.

Health bosses defended the income, saying the money was either used in maintaining the car parks or was invested in the trust’s care services.

The figures were disclosed as part of an investigation by the Press Association, which also revealed that NHS hospitals made a record £174 million from charging patients, visitors and staff for car parking – a rise of 6%.

Speaking at the time, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Hospital parking charges are an entirely unfair and unnecessary burden, which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people using our health service.”

When asked why the decision was limited to only concessionary users, Mr Whitfield said: “We have worked hard to keep parking charges to a minimum and have some of the lowest tariffs in the region compared to other trusts.

“The money raised through parking charges is needed to maintain our car parks and make it as easy as possible for patients and visitors to park. Any surplus is reinvested in the trust, helping us to provide the best possible care for our patients.

“Patients and visitors who receive income support or other similar benefits, can reclaim transport costs as part of the government healthcare travel scheme, while free parking remains available for all disabled and blue badge holders in designated spaces.”