Tuesday, June 11, 2013
HOSPITAL chiefs have pulled the plug on their much-criticised plan to start charging disabled patients to park at three local hospitals including St Albans City.
The U-turn comes nearly two months after the West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust apologised for a lack of public consultation over a decision to grab cash from Blue Badge holders visiting Watford, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead Hospitals.
As a result of a public backlash against the move, the trust will continue offering free car parking to disabled patients.
The trust has also said it would introduce a “graduated” car parking charging system for other patients. But, despite this starting in August, a spokesman said the range of fees “is still being decided”.
The trust had planned to start charging for disabled parking from the beginning of April, saying it would “create fairness and equality for everyone needing to use hospital car parks”.
Equally controversial was its move to halt a free bus service for staff and patients which runs between all three sites.
But the trust postponed its plan and recently undertook a survey on parking and transport after sparking an outcry from local disabled people and St Albans district councillors who described the changes as a “tax on ill health”,
The council called upon the trust to reverse its decision with the St Albans District Green Party collecting 400 signatures on a petition demanding that parking remain free for Blue Badge holders.
Results of the trust’s survey, completed by about 3,000 members of the public and hospital staff, showed that while 75 per cent of respondents felt that disabled parking should not be subsidised by other users, 66 per cent believed that Blue Badge holders should continue to get free parking.
About 90 per cent of respondents thought it was fair to offer reduced parking fees to patients and visitors attending hospital on a frequent or long-term basis.
While nearly 60 per cent thought that patients should not be offered free bus transport, a similar percentage agreed that it should be provided to enable staff to get to work.
As a result of the survey the Trust Board has agreed that:
n A bus service will continue to be funded by the trust to allow staff to travel between hospital sites as part of their working day, free of charge;
n But a flat rate will be charged to patients for those using a morning and evening bus service from July 1 this year. That fee has yet to be decided;
n Hospital staff will be charged at 0.07 per cent of their annual salary to park at all three sites.
Chairman of the St Albans District Access Group Robert Hill welcomed the trust’s U-turn on charging Blue Badge holders.
He said the group was pleased hospital chiefs had listened to suggestions its representatives had made at a private meeting with trust officers.
Cllr Simon Grover, who with Cllr Tony Swendell spearheaded the district council’s opposition to the introduction of charges for the disabled, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that the pressure put on the trust seems to have worked.”