A WEST Belfast MLA who campaigned for scrapping hospital car parking charges has called on the Health Minister to deliver the legislation without further delay.

The bill, which was originally introduced to the Assembly by former Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann on his last day of office, proposed hospital car parks becoming free for staff, patients and visitors. The campaign was then led by current MLA Aisling Reilly – who is now a junior minister – and it received cross-party support and was approved by the Assembly in March 2022.

The legislation was due to come into effect on May 12 but Health Minister Robin Swann is now seeking a two-year delay due to "practical obstacles" with the scheduled date, as well as "deepening budgetary pressures".

"There are logistical issues that make the planned May 2024 starting date for free parking unfeasible," he said.

"HSC Trusts have advised that the infrastructure required to manage free parking cannot be in place in time. This is due to legal challenges delaying a contract for Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology.

"As a result, the intended traffic management solution will not be operational by 12 May. In its absence, Trusts would have significant concerns about their ability to maintain safe access to their sites for patients, clients, visitors and staff. 

“In addition, it is unfortunately the case that the financial position for our health service has deteriorated in the past two years. A blanket removal of all charges would result in loss of income, resulting in £10m in costs per year in total to control access and maintain car parks."

Speaking to the Andersonstown News, Aisling Reilly MLA said: "This delay will be deeply disappointing news for patients and health workers who are looking forward to these unfair charges being abolished.

"This legislation was about removing financial barriers to patients when accessing health services and receiving treatment, for workers going to work and families visiting loved ones.

"The Health Minister and his department must now work quickly to deliver this legislation by putting the necessary infrastructure in place to abolish these charges."