THE HSE has been accused of “taking advantage of the people they are supposed to be serving” after it emerged it rakes in over €800,000 a year on parking fees at University Hospital Limerick.
Local election candidate Frank Mulqueen said this income was over four times what it cost the HSE to provide parking in Dooradoyle and that the hospital “must be one of the most successful car park operations in the country”.
He was commenting after figures released to his Fine Gael colleague Deputy Patrick O’Donovan showed the HSE brought in over €806,000 in parking revenue at Limerick’s biggest hospital in 2012 at a cost of €184,672.
But the HSE said this Wednesday that the costs outlined in its reply to Deputy O’Donovan’s parliamentary question did not include “general maintenance of the car park, lighting and the provision of the road structure required”. No additional figure on what this might cost was provided.
Car parking management at University Hospital Limerick is contracted out to Euro Car Parks Ltd. The first 20 minutes are free with a rate of €2 per hour for the first two hours and €1 for every hour thereafter. The effective daily rate to park at the hospital is €10, which is more expensive than Galway University and Waterford Regional but more affordable that Cork Univeristy and some of the bigger Dublin hospitals. Elsewhere in the Mid-West, the Maternity, Croom, Ennis and Nenagh hospitals have no parking fees.
Mr Mulqueen, who is running for Fine Gael in Limerick City West, said he was shocked to learn that “the hospital authorities are making over four times the cost incurred for the simple act of visiting a sick loved one.”
“It defies belief that the HSE can manage to run a car park at such incredibly high profits but cannot manage to control their own costs. It would appear that a balance sheet is only important to them if there is money to be made. Instead of an effectively-run medical service with adequate provisions for front-line staff we get overcharged for what must be one of the most successful car park operations in the country. They are taking advantage of visitors who have little or no choice,” Mr Mulqueen said.
What he insists is overcharging is forcing visitors to park up on housing estates and enterprises around the hospital grounds.
“A direct result of these practices by HSE officials is they are pushing cars out of the hospital and into the surrounding estates and commercial car parks. This is affecting the ability of some businesses in the area to be able to provide parking to their patrons on a daily basis.”
That some hospitals around the country and in the Mid-West were exempt from parking charges makes Mr Mulqueen suspect the HSE is hammering service users “where they feel they can turn a profit”. “Healthcare is not about making money but helping people,” he declared.
“While I understand there are massive budget constraints underway in the HSE, they have in effect begun a double charge on people for availing of a health service. We pay our PRSI, health insurance and additional taxes towards being able to receive healthcare in Irish hospitals and it goes without saying in my opinion that the ability of our family to be able to visit us is fully included in Irish healthcare.”
The HSE responded that it had to provided parking for patients, visitors and staff in a catchment area with a total population of almost 400,000.
“The site itself has significant patient numbers requiring parking, for example we would have approximately 100,000 emergency department attendances per year,” a spokesman said.
“The hospital has plans to increase the on site-capacity which is anticipated to meet the future parking requirements. The income and expenditure figures for 2012 would obviously not include costs relating to general maintenance of the car park, lighting and the provision of the road structure required.”