West Herts Hospitals Trust apologises over disable parking row

Green Party spokesman Jack Easton presenting his petition on free disabled parking to the chief exec

Green Party spokesman Jack Easton presenting his petition on free disabled parking to the chief executive of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust Samantha Jones. - Credit: Photo supplied

AN APOLOGY has been issued for the lack of public consultation over a decision to start charging disabled patients and staff at three local hospitals including St Albans City.

Representatives of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust spoke at St Albans district council’s scrutiny committee meeting last Thursday as they were called to account for the proposed introduction of charges for Blue Badge holders visiting Watford, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead Hospitals.

The trust had planned to start charging for disabled parking from the beginning of this month, saying it would “create fairness and equality for everyone needing to use hospital car parks”.

It also intended halting a free bus service for staff and patients which runs between all three sites.

But after an outcry from residents and angry district councillors who described it as a “tax on ill health” the trust backed down and postponed decisions while it undertook a survey on the controversial moves.

Cllr Robert Donald, chair of the scrutiny committee, said the issue had become a “hot potato” for health chiefs and there was a feeling the trust had “not got this right”.

New trust chief executive Samantha Jones replied: “We recognise there wasn’t adequate engagement or consultation with people and for that I do apologise on behalf of the trust.

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“We understand emotions are very high about the car parking and transport. We got it wrong.”

More than 3,000 people have participated in the trust’s survey on the issue, which ended last Friday.

The trust’s director of strategy and infrastructure Louise Gaffney said respondents’ comments would now be independently assessed, with a report on the findings expected in May.

Samantha said that the survey was “not just a public relations exercise”.

Both described the difficulties of trying to provide adequate car parking spaces, despite limited resources and infrastructure.

Louise said that the trust was in discussion with the council about the possibility of turning land at St Albans Hospital into additional parking spaces. She said it was also, “looking at whether we can put a parking deck at St Albans because we know there are parking restrictions around the hospital”.

Robert Hill, chairman of St Albans District Access Group, told the committee that should the trust impose charges on Blue Badge holders, disabled patients would expect a much better quality service.

He added: “It’s not surprising you are making a loss on the car park. The car park is very dirty. Signage is abysmal. The lighting is not good, the lane marking is almost invisible and the surface is appalling.”

The access group has offered to work with the trust on the issue.

Scrutiny committee members unanimously agreed to ask the trust board to reverse its decision on charging Blue Badge holders and to hold discussions on alternative direct and inter-hospital bus services before the current provision is terminated.

n Before the meeting St Albans Green party spokesman Jack Easton presented a petition signed by about 400 people to Ms Jones calling for the trust to rethink its decision to charge Blue Badge holders.