Hospital parking: A soft target?

Often the most effective way to do this is by charging for parking. This recognises a number of factors, namely the value of a car parking space, the needs of other users of the facility, the environmental impact of driving and the need to maintain and improve car parks by reinvesting income.

Parking at hospitals and healthcare services is always going to be a soft target for the media to tell sensational stories about how the National Health Service can do no right. Healthcare and parking as individual issues are emotive and inflame passions with most people holding a strong opinion. Taken in combination they provide ample opportunity for populist headlines.

As we have seen in Scotland and Wales, free parking has consequences: it is now virtually impossible for visitors and patients to find somewhere to park. This is because commuters and non-hospital users take all the spaces very early in the day and remain all day.

The big difference between parking at hospitals and other healthcare facilities and parking for business and leisure is that often there is little choice. Few people choose to go to hospital and even fewer have a choice of which hospital. These are facilities used most when we are unwell or seeking medical advice or obtaining treatment for long-term conditions. At best we are visiting someone who is unwell.

The BPA strongly believe in raising standards in the parking sector and in delivering a more professional service to the public. Providing, managing and paying for parking at healthcare facilities needs to be seen in the context of delivering a better and fairer service to those who use such facilities.

Both those that manage healthcare facilities and car park operators recognise the importance of car parking policy, both in terms of the wider transport strategy and the need to manage traffic and parking in line with demand and environmental needs. They also recognise the importance of professionalism in delivering their services and providing a high standard of customer care.

Free parking at hospitals is the norm in Wales and Scotland as governments seemingly pander to the popular demand. Increasingly there is a demand for England to follow suit. None of this is without consequences and it is only too apparent in Scotland and Wales that there is no such thing as a free parking space. Someone is paying for it. The BPA do not feel that it is right that dwindling healthcare budgets should be used to provide parking facilities for those who choose to drive to hospital whilst there are those who arrive by public transport and continue to pay. We strongly believe that healthcare budgets be used to provide health care.

In 2010, the British Parking Association first published its Healthcare Parking Charter, aiming to strike the right balance between being fair to patients and others, including staff, and making sure that facilities are managed effectively for the good of everyone. Now nearly three years on, the BPA has revisited the Charter and with the help of those working in both the parking and healthcare sectors, has republished its guidance.

Like so many other places the demand for parking spaces at hospitals exceeds the supply and therefore it needs to be rationed and managed. Parking charges can help to pay for maintenance and management services, and prevent these from becoming a drain on healthcare budgets. We therefore encourage healthcare facilities and those that manage parking at these facilities to sign up to our Charter and to abide by its letter and spirit.

Companies who wish to become a member of the BPA and who undertake any kind of parking management on private land must join the Approved Operator Scheme (AOS) and sign up to its Code of Practice; otherwise, membership of the BPA is not possible. 

The AOS is intended for those companies and businesses that operate parking enforcement services on private land and unregulated public car parks which may include car parks at healthcare facilities. NHS Trusts and healthcare providers that provide public parking are encouraged to employ only companies that are members of the BPA’s AOS to manage their parking. This ensures high standards, plus fair and reasonable enforcement, and should mitigate the number of complaints of poor parking management.

AOS members are required to comply with the Code of Practice and are subject to a stringent compliance audit upon joining and then once annually. In addition, we operate a complaints and sanctions scheme and members that do not comply with the terms of the Code can have sanctions applied and are liable to have their membership suspended or terminated.

There are around 160 members in the Scheme and a list of current members can be found on the BPA website at Where, for example a Trust of healthcare provider contracts out parking enforcement on private land, that third party will be required to become a member of the AOS, in order to gain access to DVLA vehicle keeper data. The BPA is an accredited trade association (ATA) recognised by the DVLA. The law says that our members are allowed to ask the DVLA for the registered keeper’s details if they can show ‘reasonable cause’. The DVLA accepts that breaking the terms and conditions of a car park or private land is a reasonable cause.

On October 1st 2012, The Protection of Freedoms Act introduced the concept of ‘keeper liability’ for vehicles parked on private land. However, for this, there had to be an independent appeals service, provided by funding from the parking sector. That independent service is known as Parking on Private Land Appeals or POPLA.

Car parking operators who are members of the BPA’s Approved Operator Scheme, will be bound by the decision of an independent adjudicator who will review evidence submitted by both the motorist and the operator and determine whether the charge should stand or not.

Car parks managed by operators who are not members of an Accredited Trade Association will not be covered by the IAS. However, if the appeal adjudicator finds in favour of the parking operator, no early payment discounts will apply.

POPLA is free to the motorist and its decision will be binding on the operator. However, you can only use the appeal service if you live in England or Wales, and the parking ticket was for a car parked on private land in England or Wales. This service does not cover Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The BPA also manages the Safer Parking Scheme, and many of our members operate car parks accredited with the Safer Parking Scheme award – the Park Mark®. Reducing crime and the fear of crime is key initiative of the BPA and the Safer Parking Scheme does just that. It is owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), but operated and managed by the BPA on their behalf; all UK Government’s recognise the benefits of the Scheme.

Safer parking status, or Park Mark® as it is known by the public, is awarded to parking facilities that have met the requirements of a risk assessment conducted by the Police. These requirements mean the parking operator has put in place measures that help to deter criminal activity and anti-social behaviour, thereby doing everything they can to prevent crime and reduce the fear of crime in their parking facility.

For customers, using a Park Mark® Safer Parking facility means that the area has been vetted by the Police and has measures in place to create a safe environment. Through the planning processes, our aim is for all new car parks to be required to achieve a Park Mark® award.

The BPA would like to see wider public awareness of Park Mark® and are asking Government, police organisations and other agencies involved in the regeneration and creation of safer communities and to become more proactive in promoting the benefits of the Scheme. Better promotion and public awareness will increase its popularity.

In support of this work we have initiated a Health Care Parking Special Interest Group, which brings together people in NHS facilities, with parking operators and service providers to share knowledge and experience. It became very clear to me at a recent meeting of this group that there are some serious challenges and yet also some simple solutions. If only people knew about them. There is best practice ‘out there’.

The next meeting of the BPA’s Healthcare Special Interest Group takes place on 28th March at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

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In our role to raise standards, nowhere is this more apparent than in the healthcare environment. Balancing the needs of hospital patients and visitors, staff and healthcare professionals to ensure that access to health care is fair, and cost‑effective, requires courage and determination. Parking managers at healthcare sites across the UK face these challenges every day. Working alone they seek to resolve their problems locally, often challenged by local media and indeed, their own colleagues.

Working together through the BPA Health Care Parking SIG we can collectively share knowledge and best practice, as well as campaign for better recognition of the services provided and the need for them to be properly funded.

The NHS depends upon the parking sector to help ensure that access to its facilities is fair and appropriate, properly managed and adequately funded. The BPA’s Hospital Parking Charter sets out the importance of offering a high standard of management and customer service, reflecting the needs of all car park users including patients, visitors and staff and with proper and adequate access controls and fair and reasonable enforcement where this is required.

For further information on RoSPA’s services for the health and social care sector, please click here


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