A Leyland couple has joined the growing band of angry hospital visitors who have slammed a controversial new parking system.
Fiona and Mark Smith found themselves caught up in the system which they say is causing unnecessary stress and upset.
Former National Express coach driver Mr Smith, 50, suffers from a number of health complaints - including a rare hereditary illness - that require him to have regular hospital appointments.
Mrs Smith, 47, his carer, often drives her husband, who is registered disabled, to his appointments to see consultants at Royal Preston, Chorley and South Ribble and Fulwood Hall hospitals.
The couple, of Heald House Road, Leyland, say they have witnessed first hand a catalogue of problems with the parking system.
They include an incident at Chorley where there were no car spaces left. Mrs Smith found another car park, exiting the hospital.
“My husband was seen immediately and we were pleased that we had the opportunity to leave within the 30 minutes to allow us free parking. However, once we pressed the photograph of the car the pay screen it froze,” she explained
“After ten minutes I telephoned the number on the machine and spoke to a lady. I explained it had now passed the thirty minutes and she confirmed that payment on this occasion would be free.
“It was whilst on the phone the screen unfroze and my husband noticed the time was from our initial entering the hospital grounds in the other location.
Therefore even though we could not find a car parking space and had left the grounds within 10 minutes to go on a public road, because we re-entered at a different location it continued to charge us.
“We had ultimately been charged for waiting in traffic and traffic lights at a roundabout on a public road. The lady could not explain but confirmed yet again we would not be charged.
“How many other people are being charged in this manner without knowing?”
At Royal Preston Mrs Smith stood in a long queue as one out of the two machines was out of order.
“I witnessed an elderly woman getting upset that she could not remember her car registration whereupon an abrupt parkjng attendant suggested she go to her car and write it down.
“This poor woman was on a stick and my heart went out to her struggling knowing she would have to then return to queue.
“A young mother stood alongside me with a sleeping child who looked ill.
“This poor woman explained she was rushing to pick up her other child from school and that she had been at appointments all week and the queues for parking were getting longer and that her child was heavy to hold for long periods of time.
“Both these women would not have suffered in this manner had it not been for this new system.”
She said: “No one should be subjected to all this upset especially at a hospital which is a necessity to attend not an option. Anyone attending hospital is already under a lot of stress and worry and this payment scheme is not just disgusting and thoughtless but cruel.”
Paul Havey, Deputy Chief Executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “First of all we apologise to any patients and visitors who have experienced difficulties using the new car park payment system.
"We installed the new system just before Christmas to simplify existing car park arrangements, provide a wider range of payment options, and because the existing system was becoming obsolete.
“We know there have been a number of technical issues and many people are unfamiliar with the technology, which has resulted in queues at the payment machines, and created some confusion and concern.
“We are working hard to address any issues and fix any technical problems; we have installed additional pay kiosks and are continuously monitoring how the system is operating. Staff have been working in our carparks, supporting people to use the new pay machines, and we have put up step- by-step guidance posters to explain how to use the new system.
“We have listened to feedback from patients who have lifelong conditions that means they need to visit hospital frequently. We agree that these patients should not pay for parking, and so we have reinstated free parking for anyone who has a life threatening, lifelong condition that requires treatment twice or more per week.
"We have also introduced a reduced rate for patients who have to attend for treatment on two or more occasions per week, or for patients who are attending an appointment expected to last for longer than three hours or who have a number of separate appointments in a single day.
"Also patients who have parked for less than 30 minutes don’t need to visit the pay machine before leaving the car park.
“Once again, we are really sorry for any distress and inconvenience that has been caused. We will continue to listen to feedback, and are continuously monitoring the situation, and will take swift action to resolve any further issues.”