Accessing good parking with the NHS

Dave Smith, of the British Parking Association, looks at the challenge of managing parking and ensuring fair access for everyone

Parking is regularly in the news and often for the wrong reasons. A recent case at Cardiff and Vale University Hospital made headlines after a judge ruled that the employees, including nurses, doctors and admin staff, must pay parking charges dating back to April 2016 after losing a legal fight with Indigo, the private operator that manages the car park at the University Hospital of Wales.

The court case involves 78 individuals, a small proportion of those who park at the hospital, who have persistently ignored parking charge notices (PCN), specifically looking at 206 of these PCNs. In addition, there are approximately a further 14,000 outstanding PCNs owed at Cardiff, rather than the 100,000 quoted, and the total amount owed in unpaid PCNs is actually around 15 per cent of the £12.8 million reported by the press.

The dispute began last year when Indigo and the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board agreed new measures for parking on the hospital site. The hospital has 6,000 staff but the car park has only 1,800 spaces, so many said they were left with no choice but to park in spots reserved for visitors. Many staff decided to veto payment of fines in protest.

The British Parking Association (BPA) considers the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board to have one of the most transparent, clear and robust parking and traffic management policies seen in the NHS. Managing parking alone can be immensely challenging and at times rather contentious, even more so at hospitals, with space at a premium and sensitivity to the nature of environment bringing some unique issues.

Staff parking is often a cause of anxiety with colleagues wishing to park on site and arrive at work, on time. The juggling of priorities is therefore a skill the parking officer must apply to decisions made. Clinical services cannot be delayed, but patients must be ready at stated times for appointments. As important as initiatives such as park and ride allowing planned visiting to alleviate site demand, so too must the parking of staff working regular office hours, with minimal clinical input, be considered for alternative options to reduce pressure.

Good integrated and sustainable travel plans, including alternatives to single car use, can assist immensely in managing these clashes of priority. It must include an overall approach to the management of parking facilities, traffic management and enforcement. Organisations and parking managers have a responsibility to ensure parking facilities which are provided are available to those that require them most, and to reduce operational pressures of parking with effective management plans, infrastructure and resource.

Kelvin Reynolds, BPA director of corporate and public affairs, says: “Parking facilities at hospitals are usually oversubscribed and demand often outstrips supply; for this reason, parking facilities and transport links need to be managed for the benefit of everyone, whether they’re a patient, visitor or employee and it is really disappointing that a very, very small proportion of staff felt that they were being unfairly treated by a system designed to be fair for everyone.

“At Cardiff and despite every effort by Indigo to reduce the financial burden for them, some staff declined to accept the offer. The court’s decision has reflected the need for good parking management and reiterates that no-one is exempt from complying with the terms and conditions. The BPA strongly advises all motorists not to ignore a PCN. If you disagree that it should have been issued you should appeal to the parking operator and if that is unsuccessful then the motorist can take their appeal to POPLA, the independent appeals service.”

Charging for parking
When parking charges were abolished in hospitals in Scotland and Wales, patient accessibility didn’t improve; instead nearly all the spaces were taken up by commuters and staff to the detriment of visitors and patients. Because demand isn’t managed properly it spilled onto yellow lines, grass verges and nearby residential streets. In some cases bus companies actually refused to offer a service because they couldn’t get through. So it seemed like a good idea, but those that relied on public transport, those very people that MPs champion for, ended up the hardest hit.

In reality, there's no such thing as a free parking place - somebody is paying for it. This is true everywhere: in town centres, at the beach, in the countryside and at the hospital. Like most NHS medical services, some car parks may be free at the point of use but someone, somewhere is paying for their upkeep and maintenance. If they are patrolled to keep them safe someone is paying for that too. Your so-called free parking is always paid for - by someone else. Is that fair?

A number of political parties included promises to abolish parking charges at hospitals in their pre-election manifestos with various explanations about how this would be paid for. The BPA believes that healthcare budgets should not be used to provide parking facilities for those who choose to drive to hospital; additionally is free parking fair on those who arrive by public transport and continue to pay? Healthcare budgets should be used to provide healthcare and car-borne visitors should pay for this service. We also believe there should be exceptions where long term or vulnerable patients should receive discounted or free parking.

Taking the pulse of healthcare parking
The BPA, in partnership with the Healthcare Facilities Consortium (HFC), has launched a benchmarking survey for the healthcare parking sector which aims to examine the provision and management of parking. This is a chance for those that manage and deliver parking services at healthcare facilities to help build a comprehensive picture of parking right across the healthcare sector.

A number of healthcare facilities have already completed the survey. However we do still need more responses, to complete the survey visit: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/62WTJ5W

We know that parking at healthcare facilities can be an emotive and complex issue for staff, patients and visitors, and healthcare providers often have to defend themselves against media scrutiny. By completing this survey, healthcare providers will contribute to the most detailed and comprehensive study of parking and travel-planning data ever seen in the healthcare parking sector. All participants will receive a free copy of the benchmarking results and these results will also be available to all BPA Healthcare Members.

BPA healthcare members met in Sheffield for the most recent Healthcare Parking special interest group. The group provides an opportunity for the sharing of knowledge and best practice, as well as campaigning for better recognition of the services provided and the need for them to be properly funded. Chair of the group is Keith Fowler, head of Facilities Services at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust.

A number of topics were discussed at the meeting including car park space maximisation, in particular mezzanine parking; a presentation on the BPA’s recent Manifesto for Parking and how the BPA support its healthcare members; presentations by suppliers in parking management, electric vehicle charging and parking search providers; and how to reduce vehicle crime in car parks.

The BPA Healthcare Parking special interest group is usually for members only, but we would like to extend an open invitation to all NHS trusts to come along to the next meeting and find out more about our work. If you would like to attend please e-mail Yasmin Jefferies at the BPA - yasmin.j@britishparking.co.uk - for details of our next meeting. There is no charge for attendance at this event.

Managing and delivering an effective transport and logistics solution, including the provision of parking at healthcare facilities requires a professional and strategic approach that considers the needs of patients, visitors and staff and strives to deliver excellence.

The BPA is dedicated to making parking a recognised profession and raising standards in parking management and operations. The Professionalism in Parking Accreditation (PiPA) is an accreditation programme, supported by the Department of Health, available for organisations to work towards, focusing on Healthcare parking. This builds upon the existing voluntary hospitals parking charter, developed by the BPA in conjunction with other stakeholders, and will enable hospitals to work towards a nationally accredited standard for their parking services.

Further Information: 

www.britishparking.co.uk