I was not surprised to see my Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, trigger another raft of press and social media controversy yesterday. This time, he is in the stocks for derailing an attempt by Labour backbencher Julie Cooper to exempt carers from car parking fees at NHS hospital. Philip spoke for over 90 minutes to help ensure that Ms Cooper's private member's bill ran out of time and stands no chance of becoming law. This is tragic, as it means that these charges will continue to have a detrimental impact on the lives of tens of thousands of patients, carers and relatives.
The focus of public outrage should, however, be the fact that Tory ministers refused to support Ms Cooper's bill in the first place. If the government had backed this cause, to stop these immoral charges, there would have been little that Philip or his colleagues Christopher Chope and David Nuttall could do to resist (not to mention Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom I spotted lounging lugubriously across the green benches at the far end of the chamber, chipping in occasionally to help extinguish precious parliamentary time).
We have a government that is busy privatising our NHS, opening up our public health care to profiteering private sector providers and, in the process, ripping apart the social fabric and public sector ethos for which the old NHS was world-renowned. Allowing hospitals to levy parking charges on ordinary people visiting their sick relatives is simply another manifestation of the privatising mania that was unleashed on the NHS by the Tories in the early 1990s and expanded in an extreme way with the calamitous passage of the Health and Social Care Act in 2012 (supported, of course, by the Liberal Democrats).
The bottom line is that charging patients to use hospital car parks should be banned. I accept that this would require extra taxpayer funding as the sums raised are quite substantial. The money raised by these charges varies, but can run into millions of pounds of additional revenue per trust. Overall, it is estimated that the total revenue raised each year is around £100 million. But this income stream is a tiny proportion of the overall NHS budget for England of £116.4 billion this year. It is also dwarfed by the £20 billion in 'savings' that Tory ministers expect the NHS to find by 2020, not to mention the huge £3 billion cost of implementing the 'top-down' re-organisation of the NHS overseen by David Cameron since 2012 (a far cry from the Tory leader's promise in 2006 that there would be "no more pointless and disruptive reorganisations").
So, it is entirely reasonable to argue that a government ban on hospital car parking charges would be swift and straightforward to implement AND that the resulting revenue shortfalls could be dealt with affordably. The money can be found - just as George Osborne is apparently going to find a few billion quid in his autumn budget statement for the working poor to offset his planned tax credit cuts. Hospital car parking charges should not be a subject for Friday afternoon debates between a handful of MPs in the Commons, but are a pressing social issue that our government needs to deal with once and for all.