Family angry at £700 parking bill for ERI visits

Joyce Walkingshaw spent three months in the Royal Infirmary where husband Keith had to pay �3.30 to park every time he visited. Picture: Greg Macvean
Joyce Walkingshaw spent three months in the Royal Infirmary where husband Keith had to pay �3.30 to park every time he visited. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A FAMILY has been left counting the cost after being forced to shell out hundreds of pounds to visit a sick mum in hospital.

Chronic asthmatic Joyce Walkingshaw, 44, spent the last three months at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where daily visits from relatives were her “lifeline”.

But the mum-of-one, who has just been discharged after 14 weeks, was left “angry and bewildered” after totting up the total amount spent on the £6.60-a-day parking charge.

And now fresh calls have been made to axe a “tax on the sick” after the family was left £700 out of pocket.

Mrs Walkingshaw, whose series of health problems leave her dependent on oxygen and regular care, was visited by her parents in the daytime and then by husband Keith, 45, daughter Samantha, 18, and her mother-in-law at night.

Each group paid £3.30 per visit for a stay of between two and three hours.

The blue badge holders, from Woodburn in Dalkeith, had previously been able to park for free in disabled spaces around the hospital, but were forced into the Consort-run car park when some bays were scrapped during work on the new Sick Kids.

Mrs Walkingshaw said: “I was quite ill and they understandably wanted to come and see me every day. Sometimes they would stay for more than two hours, depending on how I was. My daughter obviously wanted to see me, she’s never known any different with me regularly in hospital, and I was grateful for their visits.

“But it’s hard on our pocket as my husband only gets the minimum wage and he’s the only wage earner as Samantha is at college studying hairdressing and I only get disability. It’s a lot of money for us but it’s also the principle.”

The Scottish Government abolished hospital parking charges in all but three hospitals in Scotland at the end of 2008, so far saving patients more than £13 million.

A government spokesman said it remained “completely opposed” to car park fees at the PFI-built NHS hospitals.

He said: “We would like to abolish charging at the three PFI car parks but these boards are locked into long-term contracts with operators.”

Dr Jean Turner, a former GP and executive director of Scotland Patients Association, said no-one should have to pay for hospital parking. She said: “Charging for parking at hospitals is another tax on the sick.”

Previous attempts to scrap the charges were met with a £14.5m price tag when the health board tried to buy out the parking element in its PFI contract five years ago.

Scottish Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said she was writing to the health board to find a “better solution” to help 
regular visitors afford a trip to visit sick loved ones.

She added: “I am deeply concerned at the situation regarding disabled parking bays. Many disabled visitors cannot access public transport so it is hugely important that accessible parking is available.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the parking situation left a “cloud hanging over the hospital”.

George Curley, director of facilities at NHS Lothian, admitted the health board had no control over the situation.

“The roads are controlled by the city council and parking fees are set by our partners at Consort Healthcare,” he said.

No-one at Consort was available for comment.

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com