West Herts Hospitals Trust holds fire over disabled parking fees

Disabled parking sign at St Albans City Hospital

Disabled parking sign at St Albans City Hospital - Credit: Archant

PRESSURE is mounting on a health trust which was planning to introduce charges for disabled parking at its three hospitals from the beginning of next month.

West Herts Hospitals Trust caused a huge outcry in January when it announced that from April 1, Blue Badge holders would be liable to pay the same parking charges as other visitors to St Albans City, Hemel Hempstead and Watford Hospitals.

And the anger which greeted the decision was exacerbated by the claim that it would create “fairness and equality” for everyone needing to use hospital car parks

Yesterday, the trust put a short statement on its website in which was buried the words that the proposed changes for disabled parking had been put on hold until after the results of a survey into parking and transport were known.

No other explanation was given for the decision to postpone the charges to Blue Badge holders but objectors such as local health campaigner Stella Insley, are determined to see them dropped once and for all.


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Stella, from Jersey Farm, was at the forefront of the WAMI campaign – Women Against Medical Injury – which fought for justice because of the treatment they received from two consultant gynaecologists at St Albans City Hospital more than a decade ago.

Left with auto-immune problems as a result of her treatment at the time, she is now a member of Disabled Motoring UK which has written to trust chief executive Samantha Jones to protest at the proposed charge and to warn that legal action had been taken elsewhere in the country.

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In her letter to Ms Jones, the association’s director of policy and campaigns, Helen Dolphin, said the move would be in contravention of the Equality Act 2010 because charging the disabled in the same way as those who were not disabled could be interpreted as discrimination.

Challenges

She pointed out that there had been several successful legal challenges against authorities which had imposed charges including the Medway Trust which had been forced to change its parking policy for Blue Badge holders as a result.

Stella, who has vowed to pursue the matter, said she would ask other disabled people to support her.

She added: “The main thing is that disabled people have to attend hospital on a much more regular basis and it is discriminatory.”

St Albans council has called for the proposal to be overturned, particularly as it comes at the same time as the decision to remove the bus service between the three hospitals.

Cllrs Simon Grover and Tony Swendell, who spearheaded the council’s opposition to the introduction of charges for the disabled. quoted figures from the Papworth Trust showing that people with disabilities were more likely to need to visit a hospital and more likely to be unemployed, on a low income and have higher day-to-day living costs.

Cllr Swendell has since contacted Cllr Bernard Lloyd, chair of the county council’s health scrutiny committee, to enlist his support because he believes it is not just a local issue.

Cllr Lloyd said that in his personal opinion charging for Blue Badge holders was wrong and asked for the minutes of a district council scrutiny committee into the issue on April 4 to be sent to the county council.

Both the issue of the scrapping of the free bus service and charges for the disabled are to be discussed at the scrutiny committee.

Senior representatives of the trust have been invited along to be quizzed about the decision.

Chairman, Cllr Robert Donald, said: “There has been a predictably rapid and angry response from both local residents and district councillors to these latest cost-saving proposals by the West Herts Hospitals Trust. These decisions appear to penalise those who are disabled or have long-term illnesses disproportionately.”

He invited members of the public with comments or questions about either issue that they want put to the trust to email them to scrutiny@stalbans.gov.uk by Monday, March 25.

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