On a sad Friday morning, Asher’s mother fell critically ill. She was rushed to the Services Hospital, Lahore where she was admitted in practically no time. Her medication was supposed to start on the dot. Incidentally, some of the drugs the duty doctor prescribed weren’t available at the hospital pharmacy. These could be got from any of the stores on the other side of the Jail Road.
The part of the road facing Services has been fenced, and the pedestrians cannot easily go across. So, Asher pulled out his car. He was back a few minutes later, only to bump into a young man who handed him a parking slip of Rs30.
Asher told him that he had paid the fee before, and that he had to step out of the hospital only to fetch the medicines. But the parking boy wasn’t convinced. Asher was told that Rs30 would be charged every time he enters the facility.
Eventually, the entire day’s parking fee for Asher totalled Rs150, as he had to frequently move out for one thing or the other. On one occasion, he even got stuck because of double-parking — clearly facilitated by the greedy men on duty.
Asher’s is not a rare case. Thousands of people, including the patients and their attendants, visit Services, Mayo, Sheikh Zayed, Ganga Ram and General Hospital every day and face a similar problem.
When inquired, Akhlaq Ahmed, Spokesperson for Secretary Health Punjab, told TNS that these were “nominal charges meant to manage the vehicles and to ensure the security of these vehicles.”
Ahmed also said the parking contractors charged as notified to them and nothing of their own will. The charges are: Rs10 for motorbike, Rs20 for rickshaw, and Rs30 for cars and wagons.
He also revealed that the parking management had been outsourced as the hospitals didn’t have enough resources to manage it. “Earlier, the people from the nearby places — markets, shops, etc — would park their vehicles inside the hospitals as it wouldn’t cost them a penny. They wouldn’t move their vehicles for long hours, causing a nuisance for the rest.”
Naseem Ahmed, a resident of Samanabad, says he once parked his motobike outside the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) building because he was rushing to see his ailing friend who had been admitted there. He returned about fifteen minutes later, to find that tires of his bike had been deflated, apparently by the parking stand employees as a punishment for wrong parking. This enraged him, and he even had a verbal spat with the management. To no avail. He ended up pushing his bike to a nearby service station.
According to Ahmed, some people are smarter, “They park — free of charge — at the Racecourse Park, right across the road, and then walk it to the PIC. What I am trying to say is that it doesn’t help to have a fee for parking at the public hospitals.”
Saleem Mahmood has a similar story to tell, except that his bike, which he wrongly parked outside the Services Hospital, was lifted. “I got it [the bike] back after lengthy negotiations with the contractors’ men.”
Dr Tahir Khalid, Medical Superintendent (MS), Mayo Hospital, agrees that there is “sometimes overcharging at parking spaces in hospitals.” But he is quick to add that he has taken due action against the contractors.
Another common complaint that Dr Khalid receives is that in case of a bike or car theft, the contractors never compensated the owners. “Being the head of the hospital, I took action against the perpetrators and got relief.”
Dr Khalid suggests that the government of Punjab’s Health department should look at the issue seriously and ensure free parking space in the hospital premises for visitors who are generally distressed already.
A Health department official says, requesting anonymity, that tens of thousands of vehicles enter Jinnah Hospital, Mayo, Sheikh Zayed, Ganga Ram, Services, General, and other public hospitals every day. “The government would earlier charge Rs5-10 per patient in the Outdoor Patients Department (OPD), and the parking was free in previous tenure of Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif. To gain political mileage, the CM decided to bring it down to Rs2 per patient’s visit to the OPD. At the PIC they would be charged 1 rupee only.
“The decision was widely appreciated,” he claims. “However, correspondingly, the parking which was free before was now made paid. You have to pay every time you reenter the hospital premises, and there is no flat rate.”
The official also reveals that since parking has become a profitable business, it is attracting more and more influential people who may charge whatever amounts they want to.
When the scribe visited Mayo Hospital and talked to common people, they all agreed that the parking fees at hospitals must be abolished.