Patients who currently enjoy free car parking at the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospitals will soon have to pay - in an attempt to make the system fairer.
At the moment, people suffering from cancer and kidney problems are amongst a group of regular visitors to the hospitals who are allowed to park free of charge.
But papers presented to a board meeting of the trust which runs the two sites reveal the current situation “can be seen as discriminatory to...other groups, who feel that the concessionary rate should also apply to them”.
From the deputy editor: Parking charge a tough choice
Hospital bosses are now planning to introduce a flat-rate concessionary charge of £2.50 per visit from November.
That means some groups of patients and their visitors who currently pay the full rate will soon be entitled to a discount - but some who who presently pay nothing will be charged for the first time.
The new discount rate will apply to patients, their visitors and carers who have to attend hospital “for treatment over a prolonged period”. Details are being finalised.
READ MORE >>> Hospitals' boss on the reasons for the parking changes
Paul Havey, Finance Director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust described the widening of concessions as “really positive”. He also confirmed that people on benefits would continue to be exempt from a charge.
The change will come as part of a package of measures to overhaul hospital parking, which is at a particular premium at the Royal Preston.
The barriers and pay machines currently in use - which board members were told are 20 years old and unreliable - will be replaced by an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system.
“There will be a move from pay and display to pay on exit,” David Hounslea, the trust’s Director of Estates told the board meeting.
“[That means] everybody who uses our car parks only pays for their length of stay and also that they don’t risk overstaying their ticket,” he added.
New facilities will mean there are more ways to pay for parking - including by debit card and phone - rather than the current cash-only system.
Meanwhile, arrangements for staff will also be altered to address what Paul Havey said was “an inequity” which workers had been “crying out” to see rectified.
At the moment, parking permits are largely issued based on how long a staff member has worked for the trust.
That has meant staff who work normal office hours - and who joined when parking was less scarce - will usually be allowed to park on the hospital sites.
But those working unsociable shifts - and whose employment is more recent - have to use off-site car parks in which the trust rents space and from where bus companies offer free shuttle travel for hospital staff.
The trust is reassessing the criteria for staff permits ahead of the introduction of a new system next month. An appeals process will be put in place for any staff who feel they have been incorrectly moved to an off-site space.
Charges for on-site staff parking will also increase for the first time in eight years, going up in line with the retail price index measure of inflation.
Staff allocated an off-site pass under the new system will have their charges frozen - but both permit types will be subject to annual inflationary rises from 2019.
Asked by one board member whether staff who had been involved in discussions about the change were “happy” with the proposal, Paul Havey said:
“They will never be happy with an increase, but it’s important to engage with them about the [new] criteria.”
Non-executive director Jeanette Newman requested that the new charges for staff be phased in.
Board members were reminded that details of the changes were a matter for the executive and the report was noted.
Statement from Karen Partington, Chief Executive, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust:
“We appreciate that not everyone agrees that hospitals should charge for car parking, however we believe that the cost of providing safe and secure car parks should not be taken from budgets intended for patient care and treatment.
“The money recouped from the charges will be used to maintain and improve the car parks, including an improved security and car park management system as well as reinvested back into patient care.
“The current arrangements have the potential to impact on the care we provide to patients when staff are late for work or unduly stressed by not being able to find a parking space. We are sure that most people appreciate any action which aims to improve patient care is a worthy one.”