Hospital 20-min free parking 'an insult'

A HOSPITAL'S move to introduce free parking for 20 minutes only has been described as an insult to patients.

Laurence Cawley

A HOSPITAL'S move to introduce free parking for 20 minutes only has been described as an insult to patients.

Visitors to West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds said the new free limit - added as a sweetener to overall plans to increase parking charges - gave them “barely enough time to say hello” to their loved ones.

From July this year the price of a two-hour stay at West Suffolk Hospital will increase from £2.50 to £2.70 and a two to four hour stay from £3.60 to £3.90.

The increase is more than double the current rate of inflation and means costs have shot up more than 20% since private contractor Vinci was brought in to run the hospital trust's car parks in 2006.

New drop-off points where drivers can park free of charge for 20 minutes are planned, but were yesterday dismissed as an insulting “sweetener” by critics.

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Tim Holland-Smith, former chairman of the Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) public and patient involvement forum, said: “To be honest 20 minutes is extremely tight, especially for those going for blood tests. It sounds like a fop - they give with one hand and take away with another.”

Stuart Chinery has been a frequent user of the hospital with his elderly mother Lily, who has Alzheimer's. He said the 20 minute drop off scheme would be useless to those who stayed with patients, such as his mother, for appointments.

“Every ward seems like a mile and by the time you got where you were going you would only have time to say 'hello' and 'goodbye'. I would have said the hospital should give those with appointments free or concessionary parking.”

Steve Richards, director for Macmillan Cancer Support in East Anglia said: "It is morally wrong that cancer patients must pay hospital parking charges whilst attending potentially life-saving treatment - this is effectively a regressive tax on illness. Two of the biggest extra costs that cancer patients deal with are travel to and from hospital for treatment, and parking at the hospital when taking public transport is not an option due to their treatment.”

Hospital chief executive Chris Bown said: “We appreciate that car parking charges are a cause for concern for some people, and have been listening very carefully to the opinions of those using the hospital.”

He said a planning application had been submitted for a further 30 parking spaces. “We have a problem with too many cars coming on to the hospital site and finding more parking spaces will not give us the long term solution we need,” Mr Bown said.

Therefore, said Mr Bown, there were also plans to encourage people to ditch their cars and find other ways of getting to the Hardwick Lane site: “We will be exploring areas of best practice adopted by other NHS trusts, including car sharing schemes, healthier options such as cycling, increasing availability of public transport and the adoption of financial incentives or disincentives.”

At Ipswich Hospital it costs 60p to park for up to 30 minutes, £2.50 for up to two hours and £12 for a stay of more than six hours.