Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Tuesday 2 September 2008

SNP abolishes most NHS car parking charges in Scotland

I'm ambivalent about this change announced by Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon MSP. Having occasionally had to visit patients regularly at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness during their sometimes quite lengthy stays there (my mother on several occasions and a few friends) I have been irritated by having to pay to park at the hospital. Against this must be set the fact that the parking fee was quite minimal (either a pound or two pounds, I confess I don't recall as it was such a relatively small amount), although I recognise for some others the small charge levied would still prove very burdensome.

However, the main problem at Raigmore is not the fee to park, in my opinion. No, the problem is that whilst the car park is quite large, it is almost always completely full when one arrives and one must circulate around the car park several times in the hope that someone will leave just as you are approaching and that you can grab the space before some other forlorn seeker of a space to leave their jalopy gets there first! (I use that word in the loosest possible sense, as irony really, as my car is certainly not old or decrepit, not are most others left in the car park.)

The last time I had a need to visit Raigmore regularly was a few weeks before last Christmas when my mother spent several weeks there - one feature of even the minimal parking fee is that it is usually possible to find a place to park after circling the car park only for five or ten minutes. However, I recall that on one of her previous hospitalisations, several years ago and before the car parking fees were introduced, that it was almost completely impossible to find a place to park between the hours of about 8.30am and 5.15pm because a lot of people working in Inverness used the free parking at Raigmore to park their cars the whole day whilst at work, making use of the frequent buses which call at Raigmore to get into the city and back again in the evening. Parking at one of the municipal car parks in the city cost quite few pounds a day, even with a monthly parking concession so the attraction of free parking was obvious. The small fee which exists now is at least a small deterrent to this kind of illicit use of the hospital parking.

I heard Ms Sturgeon today in a news bulletin saying she wanted to improve public transport to reduce the number of people who would need to use a car to get to/from their local hospital and this is obviously a laudable aim, if she can achieve it. However the city bus service to Raigmore is from what I have observed already pretty good, but Raigmore's catchment area extends well beyond Inverness to some pretty rural areas as well as to many smaller towns all throughout the Highlands, where the local 'cottage'-type hospitals are not equipped to deal with more serious cases and quite a lot of people visiting Raigmore have no ready access, or no access at all in some cases, to ANY kind of public transport and it is difficult to see how, given the spread-out and low-density nature of the population throughout most of the Highlands, this problem can be tackled realistically and not at absolutely huge cost. It may be different for hospitals in large urban areas where most of the patients and visitors live within the same large urban area.

So whilst I can see that this is a 'good' move on the part of our SNP Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') to try and ensure that treatment under the NHS is, in the mantra, 'free at the point of need' (if you believe wholly in the principles underlying the NHS, which I do not entirely, in all honesty) I'm wondering about the possible unintended consequences and how I'm going to find a place to park at Raigmore when I need to after the parking fee is abolished.

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