Disabled patients will now have to pay to park at East Lancashire’s Hospitals after health chiefs decided to scrap free parking.
The move was met with a furious response from a patient watchdog and Burnley MP Julie Cooper who described the decision as “a kick in the teeth” for the most vulnerable hospital users.
I have spoken to the Trust and I am absolutely appalled at this decision.Russ McLean, chairman Patient Voice Group
The publication of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust’s Travel Strategy Implementation Plan proposes to end free parking for disabled people at all its hospitals including Burnley General Hospital, Royal Blackburn and Pendle Community Hospital.
The Patient Voice Group watchdog has said it will be writing to the Trust to express its concern, with chairman Russ McLean saying it would cause “stress and anxiety” to patients.
Mr McLean said: “I have spoken to the Trust and I am absolutely appalled at this decision.
“While I completely understand the reasons behind the rationale I cannot condone it.
“The Trust tell me that it needs to make efficiency savings and I accept that these savings should not be made in clinical areas.
“Other areas of the country have introduced similar schemes but that doesn’t make this right.
“I have been assured that there will be concessions and I will look at the finer details.
“For patients who live with disabilities, it is going to cause additional stress and anxiety and I shall write to the Trust expressing my concern.”
The Trust said the new charges would bring in an extra £200,000 in income.
James Maguire, Acting Director of Estates and Facilities, said: “The decision to charge for disabled parking is an extremely difficult one that has not been taken lightly and brings us in line with many hospitals and organisations in England who already do this.
“In light of the current financial climate and the pressures on the NHS to do more with less money, this was one area in which we feel savings can be made without affecting the quality of our clinical services.
“Our priority is to continue to deliver safe, personal and effective services to our patients.
“Parking charges at our hospitals remain among the lowest in the country. It is important to point out that we do offer concessions and reimbursements for patients and visitors who have to attend hospital on a regular basis, for example people having chemotherapy.
“Charging for disabled parking and introducing charges at our community hospitals will bring in around £200,000 each year which will help to support frontline services.”
Mrs Cooper, who has campaigned for carers to be able to park for free at hospitals and medical facilities, called the move “an absolute disgrace.”
The Labour MP said: “This is the human cost of a government that refuses to prioritise the NHS.
“It cannot be right to force the most vulnerable hospital users to effectively subsidise the NHS.
“In my view it is an absolute disgrace. I have already written to the Trust chief executivet to express my opposition to the decisions outlined with the plan and I will be raising the whole issue of NHS funding with the Secretary of State for Health.”
Last year she led the Park the Charges campaign to support carers who often visit hospitals several times a week and in October by means of a private members bill she tried unsuccessfully to get the Government to exempt carers from hospital car parking charges.
The report also proposes to introduce new car parking charges at Pendle Community Hospital, Accrington Victoria and Clitheroe hospital, all facilities regularly used by residents from Burnley.