France’s health minister has denied that tackling the rising cost of hospital parking is an immediate priority despite the practice becoming increasingly common and controversial nationwide.
When questioned on the issue, François Braun told BFMTV: “I do not manage hospital parking prices. I agree about this issue, but I am not going to solve the [problem of the] cost of hospital parking immediately.
“I think our health system has many other difficulties. There are people who are still very far from being able to get care, and that is my priority.”
It comes after President Emmanuel Macron recently reaffirmed a will to improve the situation in France’s public hospitals, where a chronic shortage of doctors and rural ‘medical deserts’ leave patients short of vital care.
‘Intolerable’ parking fees
An increasing number of hospitals in France are choosing to privatise or otherwise monetise their car parks, often to increase hospital funds.
The first hospital to charge for its car park was Bordeaux, in 2012, reports RMC.
Other hospitals followed suit, including Caen, Lorient, Epinal, Cambrai, Le Mans, Amiens, Toulouse, Le Havre, Lyon, and Avignon, with many offering 30 minutes or an hour of free parking before imposing fees.
La-Roche-sur-Yon hospital is expected to be one of the latest to introduce charges.
Last month, the Nancy CHRU introduced paid-for parking via the private company Q-Park. Other private companies include Indigo and Vinci.
Charges for Nancy’s drop-off ‘parking’ zone is free for the first 30 minutes but costs €6 for the first hour, and €30 for three. Its other parking is also free for the first half an hour. It costs €1 after the first hour and €7.30 for six.
One patient, who comes to the hospital regularly due to his treatment plan for diabetes and respiratory issues, told RMC the parking fees were “intolerable”.
He said: “A car park is part of the hospital and access to care. If you go to a simple consultation, and the doctor is a bit late…that’s going to cost you more…it’s supposed to be a public service but it’s not one.”
Because each car park is managed separately, rules can vary considerably. For example, at Mulhouse hospital, visitors pay but patients do not.
In Toulouse, both the Purpan and Rangeuil hospitals charge for parking via the private company Effia. ‘Patients’ and ‘users’ are charged differently.
Patients pay nothing for the first hour. Anything over that is a flat €1.80 charge. Visitors also get their first hour free. But then it rises to €1.20 for one hour, €3 for two, and then €1.20 per hour for up to five hours. Staying longer than six hours triggers a ‘long-term’ parking charge of between €11.80 and €26.20.
The hospitals say they have parking charges to avoid “abusive use”.
The Nancy hospital management told BFMTV it reinvested the car park income in the system. It did not state how much of the money went directly back into the hospital.
But one union member, Aurélie Trésor, from CGT Groupe hospitalier Bretagne Sud, said that in her hospital in Lorient, “there are days where it is impossible to park even though it’s paid parking”.
Social and health economist Frédéric Bizard has said that charging for parking is “quite a risky” strategy for hospitals because it “goes against the spirit of public service” and the amount of money they receive is “not very high”.
The health minister’s office continues to maintain that each hospital has the freedom to manage its own car parks and that changing the system is “not a priority” for the minister.