Patients receiving dialysis at Central Lancashire’s hospitals have condemned new parking charges coming into force at the end of this week - and say the system will end up costing the NHS more than it makes from the fees.
Kidney patients - as well as anybody receiving cancer treatment - have previously been permitted to park for free at the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals.
READ MORE >>> Hospital parking - who pays what?
But both groups will now be expected to pay a flat rate of £2.50 per visit - and there are claims it will cause patients to turn to an NHS-funded transport service instead.
The trust which runs the two sites says the new charges will make the system fairer by introducing discounts for all patients who have to visit hospital for treatment more than twice in the same week.
But if Chorley resident Dave Johnson had been forced to pay for parking since he began dialysis over two years ago, it would, by now, have cost him nearly £1,000.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Dave’s wife, Helen, said. “I go to his appointments to keep him company and we were encouraged to bring our young daughter so she could see her Dad on the machine and see that he was okay - and that’s now going to start costing us.”
If, in future, Helen decides to drop her husband off and return to collect him, she is unsure whether the 30 minutes of free parking offered by the trust to all visitors would be enough to complete the round trip to and from the ward.
“Surely they could continue to waive the cost for dialysis and cancer patients - we’re spending half of our lives there,” Dave said.
Patients needing dialysis can apply to be picked up by the free patient transport service for anybody whose treatment could leave them unfit to travel home by other means. Run by the North West Ambulance Service - using their own vehicles and, when necessary, private hire taxis - it is paid for by local clinical commissioning groups.
For another Chorley dialysis patient, it would be penny-wise and pound foolish to force people who have previously driven to their appointments to book the specialist transport.
“I thought we were out to save money, but, seemingly, they want to pay out a lot more than it would cost them if I came on my own,” David Price said.
“In my motorised wheelchair, I’m 10 minutes away from the hospital - so I might use that in the summer months, but not if it’s chucking it down. And after dialysis, I definitely haven’t got the energy to walk.”
David is reluctant to use the transport service, because pick-up times before and after appointments are given within a 90-minute window.
“My dialysis sessions are four hours long and finish at 11pm - so you could be nearly doubling the length of time it takes out of my day if I’m waiting a couple of hours either side of the treatment for transport.
“And the option of me doing the hospital a favour and coming in early at short notice when they need to change things around - that would go out of the window,” David warns.
Meanwhile, Helen rejects the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals’ claim that they were seen to be discriminating against other patients who also had to attend appointments several times per week.
“The government guidelines on hospital parking haven't changed for three years - so why are they doing this now?” she asked.
Patients claiming certain benefits are entitled to reclaim the cost of transport to hospital.
TRUST RESPONDS TO PARKING ROW
Paul Havey, finance director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our previous concessions and exemptions approach was only applicable to a selection of patients and visitors. Although there will be no exemptions in future, this new concessions policy means a much more equitable approach for people who are regularly attending or visiting for long periods of time and means a number of people who previously had to pay full parking charges will now be eligible to pay the minimum daily charge of £2.50.
“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. We have very recently installed an automatic number plate recognition system across our hospital car parks and are undertaking other improvement works, which along with a regular maintenance programme, all have a substantial cost.
“The money generated from these changes will contribute to the increasing costs of operating and maintaining our car parks as well as the costs of making further improvements, without taking money away from patient care. Any incidental profit is reinvested back into patient care and services.”
THE NEW RULES
As of 21st December at Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospitals:
All car park users are expected to pay to park.
The minimum parking charge is £2.50 for periods of less than an hour.
Patients on certain benefits will still be able to reclaim their parking costs - but must pay upfront.
Concessionary rates of £2.50 per visit are available to:
Patients required to attend for treatment on more than two occasions per week, or who have an appointment anticipated to last over three hours.
Patients with separate appointments for the treatment of separate conditions during the course of a single day.
Visitors for patients who have been in hospital for more than 21 consecutive days and close relatives of patients classed as “gravely ill”.
Parents of babies in intensive care.
WHAT ABOUT STAFF?
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is reassuring staff that it will do its best to address their parking woes when a new permit system is introduced next year.
Parking passes have traditionally been issued based on how long an individual has worked for the organisation. But that means staff contracted for normal office hours sometimes get better access to parking than medical shift workers - purely as a result of their length of service.
Currently, there are three types of employee permit at the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals - on-site, off-site and out-of-hours.
On-site permission allows staff into the main hospital car parks around the clock, off-site access permits them to park between 4pm and 8am and out-of hours allows parking between midday and 8am.
The trust’s off-site car parks include facilities at Preston Grasshoppers and the NHS offices on Watling Street Road in Fulwood. Workers are entitled to take a free shuttle bus into work, but shift patterns and unforeseen circumstances mean some staff miss the last service of the evening at around 9pm.
Last year, Royal Preston nurse Christine Weaver said that she felt nervous when having to make the walk back to her car.
“People around the area will know it's used for staff parking. I don't feel safe," Christine said.
“I’ve had three tickets totaling £60 for parking on the hospital car park when I’ve been on nights and still been in the car park the following morning.
“All we want is for those of us who work shifts to have full passes so that we aren’t worrying about getting to and from our cars, safely, to do our jobs,” she added.
Paul Havey, Finance Director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals said no changes to staff parking arrangements would be made to coincde with the new systen for patients.
But he added: “The criteria-based staff permit system we have had in place for a number of years is currently under review. This has been ongoing for some time now and we expect to be able to provide staff with an update on this in the New Year. We appreciate this is a key concern for many of our staff and understand the frustration the parking situation causes, so as part of the review we need to make sure we have thoroughly assessed every individual scenario that might arise with people's different needs and working patterns if we are to find a better solution.
“Unfortunately , there is not one quick fix that we can simply apply to resolve the parking challenge. We just do not have enough on-site parking spaces for everyone who would like one. Whilst we have invested in creating additional spaces where we can, we remain limited with the space we have available to us and there is no easy or quick solution that would satisfy everyone.
“The new staff permit approach which we expect to roll-out in the New Year will mean that some staff who aren’t currently able to park on-site will have the opportunity to apply for an on-site parking permit. Whilst the new permit approach won’t be perfect for everyone, it will be better than the current arrangements.”
At a board meeting where the parking overhaul was revealed earlier this year, members heard that the cost of staff permits will rise in line with inflation from 2019.
WHAT ELSE IS CHANGING?
The barrier entry systems will be removed from car park entrances and exits, to be replaced with automatic number plate recognition systems.
A new 'pay-on-foot' system will be introduced and all pay and display machines removed - meaning patients have to pay only for their actual length of stay.
New payment methods will be permited.
ELSEWHERE IN LANCASHIRE…
There are different concessionary rates available at hospitals across the county:
East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust - maximum £10 parking charge in any 7-day period.
Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals NHS Trust - frequent visitor passes available at cost of £30 for three months.
University Hospitals Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (includes Royal Lancaster Infirmary) - £8 weekly ticket and free parking for blue badge-holders.