West Herts Hospitals Trust charges hit the disabled

Ian Bangs is annoyed about parking charges at St Albans Hospital

Ian Bangs is annoyed about parking charges at St Albans Hospital - Credit: Archant

DISABLED patients and staff will be hardest hit when a new raft of austerity measures are introduced at three local hospitals including St Albans City.

In a triple whammy, West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust is to halt free bus transport for staff, increase employee parking charges and make Blue Badge holders pay to park their vehicles at St Albans, Watford and Hemel Hempstead hospitals.

But the trust’s decision to grab cash from disabled patients has been slammed as a slap-in-the-face by a resident with a neurological disorder.

In just two months time he and other Blue Badge holders will have to pay the same parking charges as other visitors to all three hospitals.

Also, a free bus transport service for staff which runs between all three sites will cease from April 1 this year.

And staff parking charges will be increased from the end of February.

Ian Bangs, of Marshalswick, St Albans, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) said: “When I got diagnosed with my illness I went to hospital more times in six months than I did in my life.

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“The parking charge just adds to the trauma of it. It undermines people with disabilities.

“You become invisible when you are in a wheelchair.”

Ian said he was worried about having to cross the busy driveway at St Albans Hospital to pay his fee at the ticket machines and he feared older disabled people will struggle across the road.

A source who did not want to be named criticised the trust for “sneaking the charges in”.

She said: “The disabled parking bays are always full. Most disabled people are on a low income and they tend to have a lot more appointments than others.

“With all the cuts to benefits, it’s the final straw.”

Louise Gaffney, director of strategy and infrastructure at the trust, said charging disabled patients was fair and that in, “difficult economic times limited resources are directed first and foremost into treating patients”.

She explained: “Trust staff with a Blue Badge are charged for parking on site.

“This decision was not made lightly by the trust board but it believes that it will create fairness and equality for everyone needing to use the hospital car parks.”

Charges range from £4 for up to three hours to £12 all day.

Louise said the free bus service was set up to help staff travelling between sites, but costs the trust about £449,000 year to run.

Its annual revenue from hospital car parks across Watford, Hemel and St Albans was over £1 million for 2011/12. Car park security services cost more than £420,000 a year.

The trust was asked to explain why it was hitting disabled patients and how many it would affect, but a spokesman would not comment further on the issue.