Hundreds of patients have contacted Lancashire Teaching Hospitals about problems with controversial new car parking machines at Preston and Chorley hospitals.
A new automatic number plate recognition system was put in place at both sites late last year, replacing the old paper tickets issued at the barriers.
But the Post has reported on a string of issues with the system since then, with lengthy queues at faulty pay stations and confusion over signage among the teething problems.
New figures show in just the first six weeks of the new system, more than 800 people contacted the hospitals to raise issues over the set-up. The top four complaints then were pay stations not working, long queues to pay, the system not registering vehicle plates, and the fact that the pay stations were located outside.
Patients and medical staff have also contacted the Post over the last week, saying they have been overcharged for their parking.
One doctor at Royal Preston Hospital says he has lost out on £150 as a result of incorrect parking fines.
The medic, who does not want to be named, uses a car rental service and has been sent eight tickets since the system, run by ParkingEye, was introduced.
He says: “I’ve had lots of problems with ParkingEye. My car is on lease so every time I get a parking fine the car rental company deducts money as an admin fee from my account. It’s regularly £10 but the last time they paid the full £70 fine on my behalf.
“I have emailed ParkingEye but I keep on receiving more notices.
“I pay £16 a month for the parking fee at the hospital and sometimes you don’t even find a space.
“They keep on telling me ‘the cameras are updated, you don’t need to worry’ but they keep on generating notices.
“The lease company doesn’t ask me about it, I just receive a letter saying this much has been deducted.
“I don’t know where to go with it.”
Mark Bond, a GP from Windermere, says he has been issued with three demands to pay what he says is a false £70 fine after visiting his newborn grand-daughter Evie at Royal Preston Hospital.
Dr Bond and his wife Alison had visited their son Charles Bond and daughter-in-law Emily over a period of three days in June, when Emily gave birth to Evie.
On the second day, the Bonds say the parking payment machine tried to charge them for an overnight stay as ANPR cameras had not recognised that they had left after about two hours on the first day.
Dr Bond said: “We tried the phone number but we only got an automated payment option.
“We ended up paying the appropriate fee - instead of the £16 it was trying to charge us for an overnight stay - with the first two letters of our registration number.
“My wife got home and emailed ParkingEye with a photo showing them the ticket with a full explanation.
“Then the next day we visited and the car parking fees were suspended. That was the end of it until a demand for £70 came through.”
Since the fines landed on his doorstep, Dr Bond has complained to both ParkingEye and the hospital trust, but has had no reply from the parking firm.
A ParkingEye spokesman said: “The motorist in this case has not appealed the charge using the appeals process. Our BPA (British Parking Association) audited appeals process is detailed on all parking charge notices.
“Any motorist who feels they have mitigating circumstances is encouraged to appeal.”
However Dr Bond says he has tried to appeal multiple times, but a problem with the website will not allow him to do so.
He said: “Every time we have attempted to use ParkingEye online appeal process clicking send with the attached evidence it results in the message ‘file not found’.”
In her response to the GP, Karen Partington confirmed that she has “asked that the issue of overcharging is fully investigated and will ensure that any overpaid fees are returned to car park users”.
She told the Post today: “I would like to apologise profusely for the difficulties patients, visitors, and staff, have experienced using the new car park payment system.
“We installed the new system at the end of last year to try 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 failings and we are working with Parking Eye to support them while they address the issues.
“We will continue to monitor the way the system is operating, listen to feedback from users, and take swift action to resolve any further issues identified.
“Once again, we are sorry for any distress and inconvenience that has been caused. If you have a query or complaint about the car park system, or believe you have been overcharged, or wish to discuss an appeal against a Parking Charge Notice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
MP calls for changes
Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle joined Dr Bond in urging the hospital trust to cut its contract with ParkingEye.
He said: “We have had complaints that we are taking up with ParkingEye. It is unacceptable that the machines aren’t working.
“Nobody who works there should have to pay - it should be free.
“It’s time the hospital did the right thing by the patients, visitors and staff.
“The system continues to fail, it’s time to rip up the whole agreement.”
But ParkingEye says its has made improvements to the system at the hospitals since it was introduced last year.
A spokesman said: “We have made significant improvements to the car park since we began working with the Trust late last year.
“We have replaced the outdated barrier system and upgraded the payment kiosks to our new Glyde system.
“We have also invested heavily in our new good2go mobile site which allows for payment on mobile phones and late payments up to 24 hours after leaving the car park.”
Broken payment machines
Steve Whalley from Preston contacted the Post about parking problems at Chorley Hospital on Tuesday.
“There was about 10 of us stood trying to pay for the tickets and it just won’t work, he said.
“We tried ringing the switchboard, which gave us a number but that didn’t work either.
“We’re stood there and we didn’t know what to do. I waited in the rain while my wife has gone looking for another machine.
“The hospital staff have been helpful but don’t know what to do either; it’s not their fault or job.
“We can’t just drive away. The last thing we want is a £70 fine even though we’re trying to pay.”
Steve, who used to work at Royal Preston Hospital, explained how some people were taking pictures of the machines as evidence before driving away.
While speaking on the phone to the Post, a representative for the parking company approached the disgruntled motorists and told them to pay at another machine elsewhere on the hospital grounds.
Steve, who lives with serious mobility issues after a serious motorbike accident, said: “It’s totally unacceptable. As a disabled person I feel discriminated against.
“It’s the last thing you need when you’re in hospital in the first place.”
Internal review of problems
A combination of technology failings and an unexpected increase in demand have been blamed for the difficulties caused by the introduction of the new parking system, in a new report.
The findings come from a “lessons learned “ review by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust into how the new arrangements were implemented just before Christmas last year.
A five-month investigation into what went wrong concluded that technical issues with new number plate recognition and pay station equipment were the principal cause of lengthy queues and accusations of “chaos” from people visiting the two sites.
The report said that the “teething issues...were the responsibility of - and subsequently resolved by - Parking Eye”, the Chorley-based firm brought in to run the new system.
The company’s own internal review, which it shared with the trust, revealed that software issues - which Parking Eye says it had not experienced elsewhere - caused the pay kiosks to perform slowly. They were also unable to cope with the barcode on a seven-day ticket introduced exclusively for LTH.
Meanwhile, car park cameras had to be relocated, because the wireless signal on which they rely was interfered with by trees which had grown to obstruct their line of sight since an initial survey to position them was undertaken. This problem was particularly acute at Chorley Hospital.
However, the LTH review accepted that the trust should have considered “more fully the potential impact of the change” and also that it had failed to appreciate the increase in demand which the new system would bring.
The introduction of flat rate concessions vouchers for patients who had previously been able to park for free caused an extra 7,200 people to need to visit the pay stations in the months after the change. Under the old system, they would simply have driven away.
But the review found that the uptake in the number of people using the kiosks was also partially due to more people sticking to the rules, because of the threat of being caught on camera - rather than driving off without paying. Previously, there had been an opportunity for drivers to sneak out while barriers were raised or decide not to buy a ticket in those areas of the car park covered by pay and display machines.
The removal of the pay and display option - which had accounted for around half of the parking stays under the previous arrangement - also increased the number of visitors to the pay stations. Extra kiosks have since been installed at both hospitals and shelters introduced.
Card payments added to the overall delays because they take longer than paying by cash - and 60 percent of visitors have chosen the plastic option. Currently, just six percent of people have been persuaded to use the online Good2Go system, which automatically takes payments and removes the need to visit the pay kiosks at all.
The trust concluded that it should have had more practical support in place to help people having difficulties with the new system - the general office was closed at various points during the day and there was initially nobody from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service available at the Chorley site.
Appointment letters also gave out incorrect information about parking while the new system was being implemented, because many of them were generated long in advance of the changes.
An initial two-week grace period to allow visitors the chance to get used to the system ended up being extended for over four months and it was only on May 8 that LTH accepted that the system was reliable enough to authorise Parking Eye to start issuing penalties for parking breaches.