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Private car park firms make £1.7m profit from NHS

SDLP health committee member Fearghal McKinney
Seanín Graham

PRIVATE firms made a £1.7m profit from NHS hospital parking fees in Northern Ireland over five years - sparking calls for contracts to be renegotiated by a member of the Stormont health committee.

It has also emerged that almost 30 per cent of fees paid by patients and relatives to the Belfast health trust for using its carparks went to external contractors.

The Belfast organisation is the north's biggest health trust and is responsible for the Royal Victoria hospital, Belfast City and Musgrave Park hospitals.

New figures show that of the total £5.5m paid to the Belfast Trust in parking fees between 2010 and 2015, £1.6m of this went to private firms for maintenance, upgrading, and "subsidies for staff car parking".

Private car park companies also received £114,258 from the Western trust for "management costs" and £30,289 from the Northern trust, who were billed for "enforcement costs".

Fearghal McKinney, SDLP member of the Stormont health committee who obtained the figures through a written Assembly question, described the bill as "startling" and said many patients believed these monies were invested in vital services.

Earlier this week, The Irish News revealed a leaked memo from the Belfast trust’s chief executive, Dr Michael McBride, warning his most senior staff to curb all spending due to a spiralling deficit.

Mr McKinney pointed to the trust’s overspend and criticised the profits made by private businesses.

“Here’s Michael McBride talking about reducing spend across the trust and yet almost £1.6m has got out to private car park firms. I don’t know how these contracts are organised but surely it is time for re-assessment of these figures,” he said.

“The health minister Simon Hamilton has announced his support for an air ambulance that will require more than £2m to run – these profits could go towards this or patient services. How many permanent nurses jobs would this fund at a time when our nursing graduates are leaving because they can’t secure staff jobs?”

Last year a cancer charity revealed that that 45 per cent of patients are stressed or worried about the cost of parking at hospital.

In Scotland car parking charges was abolished in hospitals in 2008, but does apply at some with existing contracts. In Wales there are only two health Boards who have car parks that still charge. The most patients pay in Northern Ireland for a 24 hour stay is £11 but the situation in England the costs can rise to £33 for an overnight stay in some London hospitals.

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