Dialysis patients will soon be able to park for free once again at the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital after bosses decided to reintroduce an exemption for them.
Free parking will also be introduced for anybody with a life-threatening, lifelong condition who needs to visit hospital twice a week or more.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) says it has also improved its new payment system for other users, after complaints about chaos and confusion when it was introduced just before Christmas. Additional pay stations and new signage have been installed, with the promise of a phone helpline.
There was an outcry back in December when the new arrangements saw free parking scrapped both for kidney and cancer patients who had previously received the concession because they have to attend hospital for regular appointments.
Their free passes were replaced with a flat fee of £2.50 per day, which was also extended to a wider group of patients who make repeated and lengthy trips to the hospitals. LTH argued that it was a fairer system and that more people would benefit from it.
But dialysis patients condemned the changes and said they were being penalised for needing life-saving treatment.
The trust had previously defended the new policy, but in an email sent to one patient - which has been seen by the local democracy reporting service - LTH chief executive, Karen Partington, said the organisation had listened to patients concerns.
“The Board has kept the introduction of these changes under close review over recent weeks, in particular the effect on patients who are required to attend hospital several times per week on a life-long basis for their treatment.
“As a result of this, we have taken the decision that, in the case of patients attending for dialysis, we should reintroduce a free car parking concession. The facility to issue free parking concession vouchers will therefore be made available to our renal dialysis units as soon as possible.
“I hope that this reassures you that we take patient feedback seriously and will act when necessary to address legitimate concerns and adjust our policies accordingly,” Ms. Partington added.
One of the trust’s public governors, Ken Jones, who is currently suspended from his role after criticising the organisation in the media for the way it handled the parking changes, said that the rethink was “fantastic news”.
“I always said this was a stupid decision. Now they have admitted it was stupid for dialysis patients, they should big up and admit it was a stupid for cancer patients and blue badge holders [who could park for free until 2017] as well,” Mr. Jones said.
Helen Johnson, whose husband David receives dialysis at Chorley Hospital, welcomed the move. The couple said it would have cost them £1,000 so far if the charge had been in place since David’s treatment began over two years ago.
“It's a real weight off our shoulders. The charging of renal patients to park for dialysis sessions was never a great decision and the trust has now recognised this after much frustration, stress and many complaints,” Helen said.
The changes to concessions coincided with a complete overhaul of the car parks at the Royal Preston and Chorley Hospital. A new ‘pay on exit’ system was introduced, along with automatic number plate recognition, which meant users paid only for the exact amount of time they had been parked.
But it was dogged with problems after its introduction just days before Christmas - and they continued into the new year. Visitors complained of confusion over signage and lengthy queues at pay stations, several of which were reported to have broken down.
Paul Havey, deputy chief executive at LTH said, “We have listened to feedback from patients who have long term conditions that means they need to visit hospital frequently.
"We agree that these patients should not pay for parking, and so will soon be reinstating complete exemptions for anyone who has a life threatening, lifelong condition that requires treatment twice or more per week.
"We are currently working out how these exemptions can be easily applied to minimise any inconvenience and will confirm arrangements shortly. We will also be liaising with those patients who qualify for an exemption who have paid a concessionary rate since December, and will offer a full reimbursement.
“Despite our best efforts we recognise that a number of technical issues arose during the implementation of the new parking system which caused concern and inconvenience, and for this we are really sorry.
“We will continue to listen to feedback, and are continuously monitoring the situation, and will take swift action to resolve any further issues.”
CAR PARKING UPDATE
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has also addressed concerns about the car parking system which it introduced in December.
"A number of technical issues arose during the implementation process. It also became apparent that whilst ANPR technology is widely used in carparks across the country, some people were unfamiliar with such systems, so took longer to process payments than we had predicted. Together the technical issues and lack of familiarity with ANPR caused queues to develop, and created some confusion and concern.
We have worked hard to address these issues, and have taken a number of actions :
***The total number of pay kiosks at Royal Preston Hospital has increased to eight. One additional kiosk has been installed at Royal Preston Hospital main entrance, and several have been relocated in response to usage patterns.
***The total number of pay kiosks at Chorley & South Ribble Hospital has increased to six. Two additional kiosks have been installed at Chorley, one inside the ATC entrance, one outside. Work is underway to provide shelters for the kiosks that are outside.
***The Parking Eye team is providing assistance and advice to carpark users at both Preston and Chorley, between 8.30am and 8.30pm every day. We are monitoring usage via CCTV so can deploy additional staff to provide assistance should anyone need help, or if queues are forming. A phone helpline will be introduced shortly.
***The majority of the kiosks are fully functioning 98% of the time. The Parking Eye team is providing onsite technical support to swiftly resolve any issues that arise.
***Step-by-step guidance posters are being provided at the kiosks to assist patients and visitors who are having difficulty in using them. 2000 step-by-step guidance flyers have been produced and are available from reception desks.
***A software update has been deployed to all kiosks, to make the on-screen instructions clearer, and the size of the keyboard has been increased to reduce the likelihood of mistyping.
***Additional concession barcode printers will be provided at the Cancer Centre and Renal Centre to enable patients who have evening and weekend appointments to obtain concessions when general office is closed.
***Patients and visitors adapting to using the new system, and are accessing additional ways to pay for parking. 40% of payments now being made by card, and 600 people have signed up to online payments."