Sunday, 14 August 2022

MP calls for hospital parking fines to be scrapped

MP John Howell

JOHN HOWELL has called for an immediate halt to parking enforcement at the Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley.

The Henley MP says the system is not suitable as it is “unclear” and has led to dozens of complaints by patients and relatives who have been caught out and issued with fines.

The car park at the new £10 million hospital off York Road is monitored by Smart Parking, which also used to enforce the car park at the neighbouring Bell and Hart Surgeries until it was effectively sacked after only a few months last year following scores of complaints.

The company uses automatic number plate recognition cameras to log vehicles entering and leaving the car park.

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 about being given fines of £60, which go up to £100 if not paid within 14 days, despite following the rules.

Mr Howell wants the NHS to suspend the system at Townlands and for all the outstanding fines to be cancelled and the pursuit of debts to be stopped.

He told the Henley Standard: “I want it put on hold for the time being. The system used for parking is unclear and technology is difficult for some to use. As a result, some people are not sure what is required of them to legally park and thus have not always complied with the requirements.

“Others have tried to use the technology but without success and still more have been issued notices incorrectly when they entered and left within the agreed 20-minute grace period.

“I am fully aware that there have been problems with parking at the hospital.

“I am also mindful that people visiting the hospital will either be unwell themselves or often in some sort of stress or distress as they seek to assist relatives and friends who are unwell.

“It would seem that the system is inappropriate for the circumstances and the notices issued are adding to this stress for all concerned.

“Given the problems, I have suggested that the most reasonable action is that an immediate hold is put on pursuing all notices issued at this location and then all issued in these questionable circumstances are cancelled.

“[Patients] have been tripped up by a system that doesn’t allow them flexibility and that’s wrong.

“You can’t have a system operate like that — there needs to be one which offers an extra 10 minutes at the end and doesn’t issue tickets before drivers have actually parked.”

The enforcement cameras were brought in at the car parks in April following complaints that they were being abused by people visiting the town to shop rather than attending appointments at the hospital or the surgeries.

After cancelling their contract with Smart Parking, the Surgeries urged patients to leave spaces in their car park for elderly and vulnerable people and instead park at the nearby King’s Road car park.

Mr Howell said: “I fully accept that there’s a problem with people that unsociably use the Townlands parking for those purposes and that some system will need to be put in place to manage that.

“But it needs to be one that’s much more sensitive, more sociable and takes into account the attitude of the GPs.”

He has written to Stuart Bell, chief executive of the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, asking for a new plan for the car parks.

Mr Howell said: “There’s clearly a problem with parking there which needs to be managed.”

He has also written to Paul Gillespie, chief executive of Smart Parking, saying that although the surgeries had cancelled the company’s contract, many patients were still being pursued over outstanding fines.

Last month, the Henley Standard reported that patients of the surgeries were still being threatened by bailiffs over unpaid parking fines which should have been cancelled

The surgeries said would arrange for the fines to be scrapped but  they were being ignored by the company.

A spokesman for NHS Property Services, which is responsible for the Townlands site, said: “The Smart Parking system has helped ensure free spaces are available for hospital patients.

“However, we are listening to the concerns raised by local people and will continue to request improvements from Smart Parking.

“Unless we are satisfied that Smart Parking can bring in solutions, we will consider alternative parking management arrangements at Townlands.”

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