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Healthcare Parking – a dose of common sense
In August 2014 the Department for Health published its Guidance document – NHS patient, visitor and staff car parking principles. At the outset it says: “NHS organisations should work with their patients and staff, local authorities and public transport providers to make sure that users can get to the site (and park if necessary) as safely, conveniently and economically as possible.”
In principle, what can there be to disagree with in that laudable aim? As ever the devil is in the detail. The detailed Guidance is likely to be the metaphorical ‘swan song’ from the coalition government so far as parking at healthcare sites is concerned. Therefore it becomes important to question what the Parking Professionals’ view on this guidance is and how can we ensure that the most laudable objectives are actually delivered?
The BPA charter
The British Parking Association (BPA) and its Healthcare Special Interest Group has been working closely with the Department of Health as it develops the detailed Guidance. It has been providing professional knowledge, practical experience and detailed comment on the emerging proposals.
We recommended that the Guidance make reference to the BPA’s Healthcare Parking Charter. First published in 2010, long before the government initiative, the Charter provides a set of guidelines for NHS Trusts and car park operators to help deliver effective and efficient parking for everybody, including those with particular or special needs. The Charter very much aligns with the ‘Parking Principles’ published last summer.
In 2015, the BPA Charter is to be fundamentally reviewed to ensure that it continues to promote best practice in healthcare parking. Plans are also being made to introduce robust auditing of the Charter signatories to measure their performance against the Charter – thus raising its value even further. Actions speak louder than words as they say. Signing up to a Charter is one thing – delivering it on the ground is another and we aim to raise standards by demonstrating that Charter signatories mean what they say.
The Charter commits NHS Trusts and their contractors to recognise the importance of car parking policy as part of a wider transport strategy and the need to manage traffic and parking in line with demand and environmental needs. It also encourages best practice in providing good lighting, simple-to-use payment equipment, clear signage and clearly marked parking bays: all commensurate with achieving the Safer Parking Award or the Park Mark.
Concessionary parking (including qualifying for the NHS Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme) is supported by the Charter. This is particularly for patients with long-term illnesses or serious conditions that require ongoing treatment, and for those who need to visit patients regularly in hospital. By becoming a signatory to the Charter, the Trust is committing to abide by its requirements.
The BPA stance
So what did the BPA say about the emerging Department for Health Guidance?
Firstly, we said it should restate the Parking Principles that were published last summer. Secondly, we said it should ask the fundamental question: What should be the most important consideration when designing and managing parking at healthcare facilities in the UK? The answer? We believe it should be the patient/customer experience.
Earlier Department for Health Guidance seems to have had a heavy emphasis on travel plans and, while these are necessary, it is important to recognise that these mostly serve the needs of staff. Whilst it is staff that provide the volume of regular travellers that enable Trusts to implement these schemes, visitors and patients can benefit from them too. It is important to realise that most schemes comprise components which are not suitable for everybody. Trusts need to be thinking about this when implementing an overall strategy to make hospitals and clinics accessible for all who need to travel there be they patients, visitors or staff.
It is also important to remember that a motorist who is leaving is likely to be in a completely different frame of mind to when they arrived. Information gathered on the way in may have been forgotten, and they may have other things on their mind to contend with when leaving. Any requirements to make payment for the parking and the whole departure experience should recognise this. Reputations for all destinations, be they shopping, leisure or healthcare venues can all depend on the journey experience; do your best to make it a good one.
Car parks for people
Additionally, we wanted to mention how important it is to choose carefully when employing a parking contractor to manage NHS sites. If Trusts are clear on what they want to achieve (i.e. their strategy) they can bring in a parking contractor to implement the measures that will best deliver this outcome. In these circumstances, it is important that an approved operator is sought to carry out this work such as those that are part of the BPA’s Approved Operator Scheme (AOS).
When advice is needed to develop the strategy in the first place, consultants and contractors with appropriate experience should be sought. Many BPA members have this expertise. Expensive mistakes abound because of inexperienced advice being provided in the first place.
Equally, NHS Trusts that are outsourcing need to recognise that the nature of their contractual arrangement with the service provider can have a significant influence on the management and enforcement model or regime used. A management contract with a fee paying arrangement between the Trust and the contractor is very different to an arrangement where the service provider earns their income from parking management and enforcement activity.
Finally, the lesson I learned a long time ago is that car parks are for people. Remember that people do not park a vehicle for the sake of it – they park a vehicle in order to do something else. Perhaps to shop, to work, to take leisure time or in some cases to access healthcare facilities. Parking is a means to an end not an end in itself. The quality of the parking is the first and last impression of that experience.
It’s an old cliche but the old ones are the best: ‘You only get one chance to make a good first impression.’ Lasting impressions do just that – they last a lifetime and making sure your customers and clients have a good experience in your parking facility says a lot about you and what you think of them.