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Good quality, well designed and properly maintained parking provision is vital to the success of Britain’s hospitals and healthcare facilities through the setting and raising of standards. We, at the British Parking Association (BPA) believe that providing, managing and charging for parking at healthcare facilities needs to be seen in the context of delivering a better and fairer service to users. Parking at hospitals and healthcare services is always going to be a softer target for the media to tell a good story about how not to do it. Healthcare is very personal, second only it seems to finding somewhere to park. In combination, hospital parking is always an opportunity for an emotional ‘headline’.
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.
Like so many other places the demand for parking spaces at hospitals exceeds the supply and therefore it needs to be rationed and managed. How best then do we manage it? How do you prioritise allocation of spaces and use? How is it paid for? What is the impact on the community served by the hospital? Is it a good neighbour? These are all topics for debate and resolution.
A healthy approach to parking
Our Healthcare Parking Charter is aimed at both managers of healthcare facilities and car park operators and many of the key principles contained within the government guidance is already at the heart of the Charter. We are keen for both car park operators and NHS Trusts to recognise the importance of having a good car parking policy in terms of a wider transport strategy and the need to manage traffic and parking in line with demand and environmental need. Collaboration with local councils, as well being ‘good neighbours’ is important for NHS Hospitals too and can result in integrated transport planning which benefits everyone.
There’s no point in having well managed hospital parking which simply results in an overspill of parking into the surrounding streets, annoys the neighbours and adds to the congestion making access to the hospital more difficult for everyone. Paramedic ambulances on a ‘blues and twos’ run won’t be impressed by congested streets caused by a lack of coordination when planning the management of hospital parking facilities. It’s no easy task but it can be done.
Earlier this year we’ve been working with the Department of Health in updating parking guidelines for NHS Trusts, which was published in March 2015. The guidelines include case studies of good practice that other NHS Trusts are encouraged to emulate.
A Good Hospital Parking Story
I said earlier that collaboration is important to success and we were really pleased to assist the Department of Health in producing these new guidelines. We assembled a team of experts, with a combined experience of over 250 years in car park operations, traffic management, parking access control and payment technologies, as well as NHS Facilities Managers.
Department of Health colleagues were clearly impressed and pleased with our contribution. The outcome is the NHS Car‑Parking Management: Environment And Sustainability, which is an excellent guide to good practice that we recommend to all Trusts and parking operators to ensure they strike the right balance between being fair to patients, visitors and staff and ensuring facilities are managed effectively for the good of everyone.
First launched in 2010 the BPA Hospital Parking Charter, sets out the importance of offering a high standard of management and customer service, which reflects 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. There is of course much more to the Charter and it’s now time to give it a ‘Health Check’. We want to make certain that it’s fit for purpose; we want to encourage more to sign up and to abide by the principles of the Charter. We want to make the Charter easier to understand, simple to promote and above all ensure that its intentions are delivered.
The Department of Health guidelines recognise the importance of professionalism in delivering parking services and providing a high standard of customer care, and are much aligned with our Healthcare Parking Charter currently adopted at 16 NHS Trusts.
Speaking of professionalism, our new Professionalism in Parking Accreditation (PiPA) which embraces our Healthcare Parking Charter is being launched later this year. Envisaged as a universal accreditation for organisations in all sectors of the parking profession, PiPA will be launched in parallel with a re-developed and audited Healthcare Parking Charter later in 2015.
When we worked with the Department of Health on the development of the new guidelines for parking management published in March 2015, it became clear that in redeveloping our Healthcare Parking Charter we should design it with the intention that NHS Trusts would be able to demonstrate compliance not only with the Charter which would be aligned with DH Parking Principles and the new Guidelines for Parking Management. This would enable NHS Trusts to ‘prove’ that they were following government guidance and more. We now have a piece of work which is ready for consultation with NHS Trusts to determine its effectiveness and likelihood of acceptance and acceptance testing is now underway across the NHS. Ultimately we would intend to connect our Charter with our PiPA scheme which all NHS Trusts could aspire to if they wished.
The BPA has long argued for the adoption by Health Trusts of the BPA Healthcare Parking Charter which encourages good practice in delivering parking services to patients, visitors and staff. If motorists are being asked to pay for their parking, they should receive value for money through better facilities, a safer car park and effective but fair enforcement where it is necessary.
Where concessions are available, be it in the form of the NHS Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme or as concessions for patients with a long-term illness or condition that requires ongoing treatment, it is the role of the Trust to communicate this information to patients. Many people attending healthcare facilities, either as patients or visitors and even staff, expect car parking to be free. However, the limits and demands on space and costs involved means that car parking needs to be shared fairly and properly managed.
Free parking at hospitals is the norm in Wales and Scotland as governments 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.
Free for all or Fair for All?
We feel that it must be wrong that healthcare budgets should be used to provide parking facilities for those who choose to drive to hospital; additionally is free parking fare on those who arrive by public transport and continue to pay? We strongly believe that healthcare budgets be used to provide healthcare and that 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.
We note that Julie Cooper MP has been successful in the ballot at Westminster for Private Members Bills and has published her Bill entitled ‘Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill’ A Bill to make provision for exempting carers from hospital car parking charges; and for connected purposes.
To promote good practice, we’ve a very successful Healthcare 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’; our role in the BPA is to raise standards, and nowhere is this more apparent than in healthcare parking.
Balancing the needs of hospital patients and visitors; staff and healthcare professionals to ensure that access to healthcare 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 BPA Healthcare SIG we can collectively share knowledge and best practice; campaign for better recognition of the services provided and the need for them to be properly funded. The health of the nation depends upon the NHS. The NHS depends upon the parking sector to help ensure that access to its facilities is fair and appropriate; properly managed and adequately funded.