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News archive - September 2014

The cure for parking misery

The cure for parking misery

“If a patient visits a hospital and has problems parking on arrival, it will negatively impact their entire experience,” warns Scott Gow, business development manager at WPS Parking Solutions.

Over the past few years, the issue of parking at hospitals and health centres has become an increasingly-sensitive one and there are now calls for the adoption of a one-size-fits-all approach across the NHS.

The British Parking Association (BPA) already has a Charter for Healthcare Parking, which dozens of NHS organisations have signed up to. First published in 2010, it aims to strike the right balance between being fair to patients, visitors and staff, and ensuring facilities are managed effectively for the good of all. It is aimed at both managers of healthcare facilities and car park operators.

A spokesman said: “The BPA is keen for both to recognise the importance of car parking policy in terms of the wider transport strategy and the need to manage traffic and parking in line with demand and environmental needs.

“We aim to increase public confidence in parking and parking management through the setting and raising of standards across the sector and believe that providing, managing and charging for parking at healthcare facilities needs to be seen in the context of delivering a better and fairer service to users.”

Making money

But, while hospital parking is free in Scotland and Wales, except at a few sites, and free for chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients in Northern Ireland, in England it is still seen as a key revenue source for increasingly cash-strapped trusts.

The BPA spokesman said: “While many people attending healthcare facilities, either as patients or visitors, expect car parking to be free, the limits on space, costs involved, and demand for spaces means car parking needs to be managed properly. Often the most-effective way to do this is by charging for parking. There is no such thing as a FREE parking space - someone somewhere is paying for it. Should that be the car park user or the healthcare budget?”

The charter states that car park operators should offer a high standard of management and customer service; provide a safe, non threatening environment; provide appropriate facilities for those with special needs; provide clear and easy-to-understand signs and information; publish clear information on pricing structures; provide access control and payment systems that are fit for purpose, properly maintained and easy to understand; demonstrate a commitment to reducing crime; ensure enforcement of parking terms is fair and reasonable and does not cause anxiety; and provide a dispute resolution and appeals service.

Calls for an NHS-wide policy are supported by a number of patient charities including Macmillan Cancer Support and Disabled Motoring UK, which both want to see concessions for patients with conditions such as cancer who need regular hospital trips.

The strength of feeling over parking is so acute that Sue Groves MBE, a disabled rights campaigner, took action against Medway NHS Trust following its decision to charge Blue Badge holders to park. After legal expert, Unity Law, took up the case, the trust was forced to alter its policy.

National policy

A spokewoman for the charity said: “We want to see a national parking policy across the whole of the NHS and for any means testing for Blue Badge holders to be abolished.”

She added: “We are aware of a number of NHS trusts removing the free parking concession for Blue Badge holders and we are helping members to fight these charges.”

With parking such an emotive subject, trusts are looking for innovative solutions that help to strike the balance between providing enough spaces for patients, staff and visitors; encouraging the use of more environmentally-friendly forms of transport; and covering the cost of parking system implementation.

Gow told hdm: “No one likes to pay for parking, but particularly at a hospital, where whether they are a patient or visiting someone who is ill, emotions are running high.

“Hospitals have to constrain spending and some are taking the view that parking is a means to an end and they can secure a lot of revenue by introducing controls and sanctions. However, many who have very strict policies change very quickly when they realise the negative impact.”

Some hospitals choose to save the majority of parking spaces for staff, but others are realising the benefits of increasing space for patients and are instead encouraging employees to use other forms of transport.

So what can hospitals and health centres do to overcome the problem?

Pay and display technologies are among the most-popular parking solutions. Patients drive in, find a space, and then buy a ticket to cover a set amount of time. If they return to their car within this time period, they can just drive away.

Technology is the future

While this is often the cheapest option for trusts, problems include patients and visitors having to guess how long they will be when clinics can overrun or places can take longer than expected to move between. This means enforcement notices are needed and this can be the trigger for anxiety and aggression.

A step up from this is a pay-on-foot system. This is increasingly used in supermarkets and leisure complexes when it is not always known how long someone will need to park for.

This involves taking a ticket on entry, then validating that ticket in a machine when returning to the car.

“Pay-on-foot is the most-common, easiest and least-confrontational parking system,” said Gow.

“However, it is quite labour intensive and you have to have people in control rooms monitoring this.”

WPS’s own solution focuses on using technology to help futureproof hospital parking solutions. The IT system sits on the internet and can be accessed remotely, meaning staff do not have to man ticket booths in case of a problem.

“It also means that staff within the hospital can validate tickets so that, for example, if a consultant is running late, the receptionist can offer free parking in the same way that supermarkets can do. This alleviates some of the stress points and reflects what we are seeing in the healthcare sector – that parking is becoming much more of a customer experience.

“Technology is being used to make it easier for people to pay and hospitals are embracing this approach.”

In the future the use of web-based technologies is likely to increase.

Gow said: “Everybody wants to be connected and we live in an increasingly-connected work. In two or three years, I think we will have moved away from pay and display and be using more-advanced parking systems, such as automatic numberplate recognition systems (ANPR) and instant pay options.”

WPS has worked with a number of NHS trusts, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Elsewhere, South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has recently introduced a new parking system for 2014. Special permits are available for regular patients at reduced rates and it operates a pay-on-foot system. However, it has attracted criticism for a £50 penalty fine for breaches.

A spokesman said: “£50 parking charge notices were introduced on The James Cook University Hospital site for drivers parking illegally following a number of complaints from members of the public and the ambulance/patient transport services, which often struggle to drop patients off at entrances because of illegal parking.

“By introducing fines we hope to ensure we have a genuine deterrent for people who persistently park in disabled spaces or in a manner which poses a risk to other site users.”

Creative Parking Solutions is one company offering a new approach to parking, having signed up to the Healthcare Parking Charter. Its NHS partnership manager, Nigel Tobin, said: “Our aim is to help healthcare institutions provide better parking facilities which are considered fair to patients, visitors and staff while ensuring parking is managed effectively

“Many trusts are keen to apply change, but simply don’t have the time, expertise or resource to seek out ways of doing so.”

A positive experience

Media officer, Alun Marks, added: “While many people would like to see parking offered free of charge within healthcare facilities, in practise the demands for space and the costs involved make this impossible for many institutions. Parking must be managed professionally in order to monitor and control the flow of use, ensuring a fair and reliable service for all users.”

Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions (ICES) is also working increasingly within the healthcare market, having launched a new operation – Open Parking - to provide tailor-made solutions to hospitals.

"Effective parking management is no longer just a case of instruction, signage and enforcement," said Ashley Bijster, managing director of ICES and the new president of the British Parking Association.

“Today, providing drivers with support and encouragement and easy and convenient parking options is absolutely essential for delivering a positive customer experience. The Open Parking initiative offers a number of solutions from from onsite uniformed attendants to design advice, maintenance and full facilities management.”

And Park with Ease recently offered one NHS customer a free trial of its ‘fair and ethical’ parking system, which uses ANPR technology.

A next-generation system, it eliminates the need for barriers and ensures users do not have to struggle to find the right change to put in a meter. Users also have up to 48 hours after leaving the car park to pay, which can be done simply online.

Park with Ease co-founder, Jon Flatman, said: “Too often motorists are irritated by parking issues, which is why we want to see that change so it’s more flexible and fair to everyone.

“The system is extremely flexible and can be adjusted to suit individual car parks, which gives operators the final say on how it works.

“The feedback we’ve had from people has been excellent and we’ll be extending it to more car parks in the near future.”

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