Disabled patients at Preston and Chorley hospitals 'still paying for parking' - even though it's now free
Blue badge-holders are paying to park at the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital even though they no longer need to - because the signs telling them that they are exempt are not obvious enough.
That is the claim from one elderly patient who says he and his wife have continued to shell out for parking in the months since the government issued new guidance telling NHS trusts that they should provide disabled people with free spaces.
Norman Dean, from Clayton-le-Woods, says he has not spotted the signage advising of the new arrangement, which came into force on 1st April.
The 82-year-old adds that he knows of other disabled patients who have also carried on dipping into their pockets to pay for parking.
Norman has attended a clinic appointment since the change to the rules and has also been visited by his wife - who has her own blue badge - on multiple occasions after he was hospitalised earlier in the summer. The couple paid the full fee for their stay on each occasion.
The Lancashire Post has seen generic parking signs at both the Preston and Chorley sites which - in addition to details of the hourly tariffs and the £70 fine for anybody who breaches the regulations - also include a message to blue badge-holders advising them to present the photo element of their badge at the hospital’s general office in order to obtain a permit to park for free.
The same advice appears on slightly less crowded notices in the car parks reserved specifically for those whose vehicles bear a blue badge.
However, Norman says that the vital message is missing from the one place it is needed the most - the front of the kiosks where people make their payments for parking.
“It doesn't take a brain surgeon to work out what they need to do - make the signs so you can read them and put them on the pay stations themselves.
“They really need more prominent notices, because people are not aware [of the new rules].
“It’s just not right that people are still paying - and it needs publicising so that Joe Public knows about it.
“Patients have been used to parking, having their registration number photographed and, if they don't pay, getting fined - so they go to the machine and they pay,” Norman said.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) introduced an automatic number plate recognition system at its car parks in December 2018 when Chorley-based parking firm Parking Eye took over their operation. It saw an end to the barrier and ticket mechanism that had been in place for 20 years.
Now, patients and visitors enter their registration number at a payment kiosk and the machine calculates how long they have been parked and charges them accordingly. Stays of under half an hour are free, while the tariff stands at £2.50 for between 30 and 60 minutes, £3.50 for two hours and £5.50 for four.
The Post saw signs at Chorley Hospital, detailing the exemption for disabled badge-holders, that were placed to the side of the kiosks - but they were outside of the covered area that drivers enter to pay.
Norman - who initially presumed that LTH had chosen to continue charging those with a blue badge - says he has seen the issue raised by other disabled patients on social media.
“My own brother has also paid out £60 or £70 since the charges were dropped. It’s not cheap to park at the hospital - and there are people who will [unnecessarily] struggle to fork out every time they go.”
County Cllr Mark Clifford, who represents the Clayton with Whittle division on Lancashire County Council, said people are “clearly being caught out”.
“A lot of patients and visitors with blue badges are not necessarily driving themselves to hospital - they are being taken by someone else, who won’t be used to the payment system.
“I certainly think that anybody who has paid in error should be reimbursed,” he added.
After being contacted by the Post, the hospital trust has pledged to do just that for any blue badge-holder who can provide evidence that they have incorrectly paid for parking since 1st April.
An LTH spokesperson said that the trust “is always happy to review feedback received to explore where improvements can be made.”
"In line with government guidance, the trust has provided free parking to blue badge-holders since April 2021.
"The trust has an established process in place for blue badge-holders to receive free parking, which many patients currently utilise.”
The Post understands that 900 people have so far registered their blue badges for parking payment exemptions at Preston and Chorley hospitals. More than one vehicle can be registered per badge.
NHS figures show that in the year to March 2020, £4.3m was generated in car parking income at LTH - around £3.6m from patients and £750,000 from staff. Hospital trusts are required to invest any profit from parking charges - after maintenance and operating costs - in improving health services.
Hospital parking has become a thorny political issue in recent years. At the 2019 general election, the Conservatives pledged to scrap charges for several groups - including the disabled - who became eligible for free parking in April this year, while Labour promised to ditch fees altogether.
Earlier this week, the Scottish government announced that parking charges would end at the few hospitals where they remain in place north of the border, with most having been removed as far back as 2008 - the same year that they ended at most hospitals in Wales.
WHO DOESN’T HAVE TO PAY TO PARK AT PRESTON AND CHORLEY HOSPITALS?
As well as free parking for blue badge-holders, the new government guidance introduced in April said that hospital trusts should not charge people with “frequent” outpatient appointments - defined as anyone required to attend hospital at least three times within a month for a period of at least three months.
Parents or guardians of sick children staying overnight in hospital also became exempt from payment.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals already had a policy of not charging patients with a life-long condition requiring two or more hospital visits per week, such as those receiving kidney dialysis.
The trust also offers a concessionary parking fee of £2.50 per day for family visitors to “gravely ill” inpatients and to relatives whose stay in hospital has extended beyond 21 days.
Patients, relatives or carers who are eligible for free or concessionary parking must first speak to clinical staff in the relevant ward, clinic, or department and complete a form. Endorsed car parking concessions certificate applications should then be taken to the general office at either the Preston or Chorley sites for processing.
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