A SOUTH CUMBRIAN MP has slammed a decision from a hospital trust to charge patients staying overnight at hospital accommodation and labelled the fee a ‘tax on ill health’.

The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, has criticised a decision from Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to charge patients £25 per night to stay at Bowland House accommodation at the Royal Preston Hospital.

Patients who use the facility typically include parents of neonatal babies; people receiving cancer treatments and those with relatives at the end of life.

It was previously free for patients to stay overnight before the £25 per night charge came into force on February 1.

In a letter to the trust Mr Farron said: “It is bad enough that my constituents are forced to travel long distances to access cancer services at present, without having the added worry of how they can afford to stay over if they are not physically well enough to return home daily and feels like a tax on ill health, when people are possibly at their most vulnerable in their lives.

“I do hope you will reconsider this move which is, in my opinion, both unwelcome and ill-judged at this time when many are struggling with a cost of living crisis and should not have the additional burden of options being closed to them as they simply can’t afford to stay over when they are already paying for petrol to travel to access live saving treatment.”

Preston remains the closest hospital for patients in South Cumbria to travel for radiotherapy treatment, and Mr Farron states this decision further strengthens the case for a radiotherapy unit at Kendal’s Westmorland General Hospital.

According to Lancashire Teaching Hospitals there are currently 12 rooms available to patients and families at Bowland House and it is uncommon for NHS Trusts to offer this type, or volume, of on-site accommodation.

A Lancashire Teaching Hospitals spokesperson said: “Royal Preston’s Bowland House offers high quality on-site accommodation for a small number of patients, and their families. It is only available to those who clinicians feel would benefit from staying here, rather than driving long distances between treatment or booking their own off-site accommodation.

“The Trust is not funded to provide this facility or its associated running costs and wants to be able to continue to offer this to our patients in the future, rather than consider other options such as closure.  To date patients have been asked to make a voluntary contribution towards their stay, which has varied greatly, however the new £25 rate will ensure there is a more realistic contribution towards ongoing running costs.

“Both Rosemere Cancer Foundation and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Charity are making monthly contributions towards the facility which is enabling us to keep costs for patients as low as possible in comparison to the price of staying elsewhere - which they would of course be paying for themselves.”