West Herts hospital parking charges for disabled are ‘tax on ill health’

St Albans City Hospital

St Albans City Hospital - Credit: Archant

THE decision to charge disabled patients for parking at three local hospitals including St Albans City has been blasted by angry district councillors as a “tax on ill health.”

At last week’s full St Albans district council meeting many councillors voiced their support for disabled residents, and criticised West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust’s ploy to grab cash.

The trust recently said it would increase employee parking charges, make Blue Badge holders pay to park their vehicles at St Albans, Watford and Hemel Hempstead Hospitals and halt free bus transport for staff and patients between all three sites.

Cllr Simon Grover said: “There has been a lot of shock and surprise from members of the public.”

He added that a claim by the trust that the austerity measure would create fairness and equality for everyone needing to use the hospital car parks was “absolutely extraordinary”.

He added: “Presumably the people who say this also think that removing wheelchair ramps from outside shops would be a good idea as it creates fairness and equality in access to those shops.

“It just beggars belief that people in this position could come out with a statement like that.”

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Cllr Chris Brazier said there needed to be further debate on problems with hospital parking, particularly at Watford, close to the football ground.

Cllr Dean Russell said: “On the issue of Watford car park, my daughter was born at the time of a match in Watford, [so] I can echo the stress of trying to park at that time.”

Patients should “refuse to pay the charges” advised a defiant Cllr Tom Clegg and Cllr Malachy Packenham commented: “This is effectively a tax on ill health.”

Members also voiced concern about cutting bus transport for patients, warning that it would socially isolate elderly residents.

Cllr Roma Mills pointed out that when the free bus was first introduced during centralisation of local hospitals residents were assured the transport would continue, but now “that is lost to us”.

She added: “There are real issues of people accessing health services.

“I know at the City Hospital, should you wish to pay the exorbitant sum of £4.50 for 20 minutes for having a blood test, there often aren’t enough car park spaces.

“If your elderly spouse is in Watford and you rely on that shuttle bus to get there to visit them, then you are not going to benefit properly from the health services.”

Cllr Robert Donald added: “Anger in the chamber echoes that in the community, as it has been dealt with in an insensitive way by the trust.”

They agreed to hold a discussion with the trust on parking, transport and access issues.

After the meeting an online petition was initiated by St Albans District Green Party calling on the trust to keep hospital parking free for Blue Badge holders.

See www.bit.ly/disabledparking

There was no comment from the trust at the time of going to press.