Monday, 23 April 2018

Hospital parking fines must stop

MP John Howell

JOHN HOWELL has called for the parking enforcement scheme at Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley to be scrapped.

The Henley MP has written to NHS bosses urging them to cancel their contract with Smart Parking after numerous complaints by patients about unfair fines.

Mr Howell said the company had treated people in an “appalling way” which was “unacceptable”.

The same firm used to enforce the car park at the neighbouring Bell and Hart Surgeries until it was sacked in November after only a few months following scores of similar complaints.

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Smart Parking uses automatic number plate recognition cameras to log vehicles entering and leaving the car park of the £10 million hospital off York Road.

Patients have to enter their registration details on a keypad at reception to receive free parking and there is meant to be a 20-minute grace period for those passing through or dropping off patients.

However, the hospital has been inundated with complaints from patients and drivers, some of whom have been pursued by debt collectors.

Mr Howell says he receives three or four letters a week from constituents complaining that they have been wrongly fined or are being pursued for money and most want Smart Parking to be sacked.

“I completely agree,” he said. “The behaviour of the company is, quite frankly, unacceptable.”

In February he wrote to Paul Gillespie, chief executive of Smart Parking, but received no response so he has written to the trade association to complain.

“I’ve also written to NHS Property Services to say that they have to change from this company because of the appalling way it has treated people,” said Mr Howell.

“It’s simply unacceptable that they don’t reply to legitimate concerns raised by individuals.”

Mr Howell has previously called for the parking enforcement scheme to be suspended, saying it was “unclear” how it worked, and for all outstanding fines to be cancelled.

He has since sought the support of Steve McManus, chief executive of the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, which provides several services at Townlands.

He says Mr McManus agreed to support him in calling for the parking scheme to be axed.

Mr Howell says a new system of enforcement should be introduced that is easy to understand and use and doesn’t penalise people unfairly.

“It’s important that we make sure the car park is reserved for people that need it for clinics and the hospital,” he said. A spokeswoman for NHS Property Services, which is responsible for the Townlands site, said: “We continuously review the effectiveness of car parking management systems and are currently working on potential ways to improve patients’ experience of using the system.”

It has previously said that it had asked Smart Parking to improve the system and would consider alternatives if it was not satisfied with the company’s performance.

The cameras were brought in at the car parks at the surgeries, hospital and neighbouring Chilterns Court care centre in April last year as they were being abused by shoppers.

The GPs decided to cancel Smart Parking’s contract in September, although it had to give the company 90 days notice, meaning the arrangements did not end until November.

The surgeries said their staff had been spending up to an hour a day handling complaints when they should have been using that time on surgery business.

They had the final say over incorrect fines but said that in many cases it took multiple letters to obtain a refund.

The practices also claimed Smart Parking failed to respond to requests to provide bigger screens to help patients, especially the elderly, to register.

They urged patients to leave spaces in the surgeries’ car park for the elderly and vulnerable people and instead use nearby King’s Road car park.

Each fine is £60, which rises to £100 if it is not paid within 14 days, but some patients have complained about being pursued by debt collectors for as much as £160.

Smart Parking did not respond to requests for comment.

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