Hospital Parking Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for parking free of charge for persons attending outpatient services in public hospitals; and to provide for related matters.

I thank Deputy Berry for co-signing the Bill. Since 2012, hospital car parks have taken more than €100 million from patients, through either parking charges or clamping fees. This money has, obviously, come from the pockets of patients, who can least afford it. What is often forgotten, when people think of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and mental illness, is that those illnesses take a significant health toll on those individuals and their families. The Irish Cancer Society estimates that having cancer increases one's costs by between €800 and €1,200 a month because of the additional things one has to pay for. People also typically see a drop in their income of €1,400 a month if they have one of these significant long-term illnesses. These costs include car journeys to and from treatment, hotel or bed and breakfast overnight stays they may have to cover or even childminding.

I am aware that in certain hospitals, there is free car parking for perhaps 20 minutes. Cancer patients present at the waiting rooms, and leave after 20 minutes to take their car out of the car park and bring it back in order that they can avail of free car parking for a further 20 minutes. This is an incredible practice that is happening in hospitals throughout the country, and it is not unusual in Ireland. Hospital car parking charges are a tax on those who are ill. They take money from those who can least afford it. We believe that the health service should be funded by the State, funds should be centrally provided for through taxation and we should not hit patients for this charge.

The Irish Cancer Society has carried out a good bit of work on this issue and worked out that people who have cancer typically spend €700 on car parking charges a year, an incredible figure. We have seen how much money this generates for hospitals. A total of €12 million was taken last year through car parking charges in hospitals. One hospital made €30,000 in one week, while another was estimated to have made €60,000 in one day in 2017, an unbelievable sum. In 2018, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, announced there would be a review of hospital car parking charges. I understand, however, that the recommendations of that review have never been published. It was suggested some hospitals should cap their charges at €10 a day, but my understanding is this has not been properly complied with by many hospitals. Where a cap exists, people do not know about it. Just before the general election in 2020, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin had within their manifestos a promise to bring in legislation to get rid of these charges, which are targeted at the most vulnerable.

It is my understanding, however, that none of these parties have made good on those pre-election promises. We in Aontú have developed this Bill. It is very simple. It provides for an entitlement to free parking for up to three hours in the car park of a public hospital where the driver of a vehicle or a passenger is attending that hospital to receive outpatient treatment. We urge the other political parties not to just nod their heads and offer platitudes in respect of the Bill, but to help us to get it through the Dáil quickly so that we can alleviate this tax on patients as soon as possible.

The Irish Cancer Society has also campaigned for a cut in hospital car parking charges. It is incredible that figures around the country are uneven. Many people do not understand what the charges are and are being significantly stung financially because of these charges.

Our Bill also makes allowance for hospitals to make specific changes to allow for spaces to be kept available for patients who need them if their car parks completely overflow as a result of this new Bill. This is a carefully thought-out Bill and a simple one. I believe that all political parties should agree with it. I urge political parties across the Dáil to support the Aontú Bill to make sure that we get rid of these shocking charges, this taxation on patients, once and for all.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.