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What should be the most important consideration when designing and managing parking at healthcare facilities in the UK? I believe it should be the patient/customer experience.
Let’s start with the premise that most people would rather not pay for parking and few people choose to be in a hospital or healthcare environment. So we are dealing with a reluctant consumer who may be worried, concerned, even frightened. Surely we should make the parking experience simple, easy to understand and appropriate for the situation?
People don’t ‘park’ to park. They park on their journey to do something else. The parking is ancillary and should be smooth and simple regardless of whether it’s paid for or not.
There are broadly three types of arrangements when parking is paid for which are firstly: pay on arrival. Secondly: pay on departure and thirdly: pay on account.
In my view, the first option may not be entirely suitable for a healthcare environment unless there is a flat fee arrangement and not a fee based upon time parked for example. No one can predict how long they are likely to be in an emergency department for example. Pay on departure is likely to be much more suitable and a variety of options exist to cater for patients and visitors with special needs of almost any kind. Staff are more likely to be those who use pay on account arrangements, season tickets and permits often paid via salary sacrifice or similar arrangements. Prepaid schemes can also be used for other regular users.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
One NHS Trust went out to tender for a new MSCP and made the builder responsible for procuring the necessary parking control equipment for the car park. They in turn contacted one of the access control companies working for the Trust, who it turns out had little experience in revenue parking equipment or management. This company was then chosen to provide the new control equipment which was purchased from an overseas supplier with little experience of the UK market.
After 12 months of problems with the equipment chosen, constant breakdowns and complaints from patients and visitors as well as the parking staff, a consultant parking professional was called in. The consultant undertook an analysis of the parking control equipment installed as well as the needs of patients, visitors, staff and also taking into consideration the site logistics, made recommendations that the equipment chosen was not fit for purpose and there was little chance it could be improved to perform to a satisfactory standard and the only solution available was to purchase new equipment that was capable of meeting the requirements.
Ultimately the original system was removed and the new arrangements put in place.
Now it works. But what a waste of time and NHS money. All of which could have been avoided if the original scoping document and specification for the car park had included a proper equipment specification that incorporated the needs and expected outcomes for patients, visitors and staff.
This story is not unique. I hear many similar examples of inappropriate parking systems being deployed in healthcare environments which cause confusion and add to the worries of an already concerned person.
Sometimes outpatients are admitted to hospital – what arrangements are in place to deal with the vehicle in the car park? I’ve heard of situations where fees continue to rise as outpatients become in patients and vast sums of money become payable or are written off.
People paying to park need a choice when it comes to methods of payment too. Do you have six pounds in coins in your pocket now? Few people carry large amounts of coin and yet so many parking places do not accept payment cards or bank notes. Some believe the answers lay in systems which allow customers to pay by text or mobile phone; you can even get reminders about paid-for time expiring soon and even top-up your parking time if needs be. All very good in the right environment, but wait. Aren’t I supposed to switch off my mobile phone in hospital or healthcare environments?
The point I’m making is that parking in the healthcare environment needs careful thought and specialist advice to ensure that the needs of patients, visitors, staff and those with special needs are properly catered for and appropriate management arrangements put in place.
Whilst 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 that 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 car park user or the healthcare budget?
Car parks require ongoing investment and that costs money. Hospitals themselves are constantly undergoing redevelopment as services and facilities are upgraded and added. The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust recently underwent a £429m regeneration of its city centre Royal Liverpool University Hospital (RLUH).
The first element of this PFI project to be commissioned was a new multi-storey car park with an overall budget of £8m, equal to £11,436 per space. The project was created via the National Health Care framework Procure 21+ and built by VINCI Construction UK, to a design by architect Nightingales.
The car park has 706 spaces across seven levels and is open 24 hours a day, catering for a wide range of users. Secured by Design principles have been employed in the development of the scheme design and landscaping, and the building design was developed with reference to standards as set out in the Safer Parking Scheme Park Mark® guidance. Drawings formed part of a Park Mark® submission in order to attain the award.
An open aspect has been included in the design to provide good visibility around the parking areas. CCTV is employed throughout and lighting had been designed to maintain good visibility at all times.
This major project and significant investment led to Royal Liverpool Hospital Car Park winning the Best New Car Park Award at the 2014 British Parking Awards.