Doctors leaders in Wales are calling on the National Assembly for Wales to abolish car parking charges at hospitals throughout Wales and release patients from a heavy financial burden.
Welsh Secretary of the BMA, Dr Richard Lewis said: "Charging people to park at hospitals is an indirect tax on healthcare. These days, the vast majority of people who attend hospital clinics do so by car. Often, these people have to attend several times during treatment and the costs mount up. It's iniquitous that they have to pay to access hospital care.
"Public transport is often inconvenient and troublesome to patients with mobility problems. NHS trusts are making thousands of pounds a year by charging patients and visitors to park. This stealth tax is immoral and reprehensible."
At least a quarter of Welsh hospital trusts are drawing a six-figure income from parking charges.
NHS trusts, many of which have contracted out management of parking to private companies, have been slammed for introducing "stealth taxes" on patients.
"For visitors, or anyone going to hospital, the last thing you want to be doing is worrying whether you have money in your purse to put in the meter."
Chairman of the BMA's Welsh Council, Dr Tony Calland said: "Welsh hospital car parking charges are a tax on the sickest patients and their relatives. The most ill section of the population has to visit hospital more frequently than those who are healthier and it is often these very ill people who, because of their illness, are the least able to pay the substantial car parking charges. Wales should stop this tax on the sick!
"The founding principle of the NHS was that healthcare should be free at the point of delivery. Is it right that a Welsh government should preside over a system that profits from patients and visitors driving to their local NHS trust to access healthcare or visit sick relatives. It is taxing the sick by the back door.
Mr Jonathan Osborne - Chairman of the BMA's Joint Consultant Committee, and a consultant ENT surgeon in Glan Clwyd Hospital, Colwyn Bay said: "Car parking charges in hospitals penalise patients and staff on low incomes and communities in rural areas where there is no effective public transport. They should be abolished in Wales".
Dr Victor Aziz, a Consultant Psychiatrist said: "If we abolish prescription charges, we should also abolish car park charges and make life easy for people living in Wales".
Swansea NHS Trust last year made more than £1m from parking charges, resulting in a profit of £443,810.
Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust's income from car parking last year was more than £650,000 and car parking and clamping charges at the Royal Gwent Hospital, in Newport, where it is notoriously difficult to park, gave Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust an additional income of £466,000.
Bronglais Hospital is the only site within the Ceredigion and Mid Wales NHS Trust that charges for parking. The total income for car parking charges for 2005/2006 was £11,816.
Neither North Glamorgan NHS Trust nor Velindre NHS Trust charge patients to park on their premises.
Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust gets no money from car parking at the University Hospital of Wales: it has an agreement with car parks operator Vinci, and the company keeps all revenue from the site.
Supporting the BMA Wales/Cymru campaign, Age Concern Cymru Director, Robert Taylor, said: "Older people are amongst the highest users of hospital services so we would very much welcome any moves to reduce car parking fees.
"Public transport is not always capable of enabling older people, especially those who have difficulty in walking, to travel from their home to a hospital so they may have to rely on using a car.
"We must also remember that the majority of older people are on relatively low fixed incomes so it can be difficult for them to meet this extra cost when attending hospitals for treatment or to visit friends and relatives."
Elin Ifan, Regional Manager of ASBAH in Wales added her support: "We are delighted to support the BMA's campaign to abolish parking charges for patients attending Welsh hospitals.
"In partnership with the Family Fund, we recently distributed the Family Fund's transport survey questionnaire to parents of children under 16 years of age. The answers are very telling of the stress caused to, and the costs incurred by, parents when travelling to and from hospitals. Car parking costs are mentioned, but also the wider issues were raised such as loss of earnings, and care of siblings while the parents are with the child in hospital.
"One of our families said : "Paying to park at hospitals is appalling. We have been travelling to hospitals 50 plus miles away, at least 4 to 6 times a year for six years."
Should the BMA be successful in their campaign to abolish parking fees in Welsh Hospitals, I think it would be equitable if patients travelling outside Wales for treatment (e.g. North Wales patients travel to Liverpool for tertiary services; Mid-Wales patients travel to Birmingham and Manchester, and some from south Wales travel to Frenchay, Bristol, and Great Ormond Street, London) be issued with some sort of permit/ voucher to cover their parking costs.
Peter Cardy, Macmillan Cancer Support's Chief Executive, says: "Missing an appointment is not an option for cancer patients - they have no choice but to pay for travel and parking, which amounts to a stealth tax on illness.
"Due to the nature of cancer, patients have to make multiple hospital trips for potentially life-saving treatment and costs can add up - in fact Macmillan's new research showed patients make an average of 53 trips to hospital. Often patients have to make lengthy and costly visits to specialist treatment centres, and expensive parking charges can hit patients hard.
"Our 'Cancer Costs' study found nine in ten (91%) cancer patients' households suffered a loss of income and/or increased costs as a direct result of their cancer diagnosis.