/ Health, Motoring

How St Helier Hospital cured its car parking problem

St Helier Hospital

A year on from our investigation into NHS hospital car parks, St Helier Hospital has joined us to track its journey from being a poor performer to becoming our ‘most improved hospital’.

Visiting hospital is stressful enough without having to worry about parking. That’s why Which? is campaigning for better hospital car parks – charges should be fair and flexible, penalties proportionate and there should be support for priority patients.

Nick Gorvett, director of corporate infrastructure at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, answers our questions to reveal how St Helier Hospital cured its car parking system.

1. What was your initial response to our findings and how did they encourage you to make changes?

We were of course disappointed to find out we had come out poorly in last year’s Which? survey of NHS hospital car parks for the number of cars we clamped.

As a Trust that treats around 700,000 patients a year, it has always been vital that our car parks are managed well and efficiently.

Which? encouraged us to think about all the aspects of car parking in a different light: we wanted to have some of the best NHS hospital car parks in the country, and we wanted to involve our patients, visitors, staff, volunteers and local people to help us improve them.

2. The Trust has made a lot of improvements to its hospital’s car parks over the last year, tell us more about the steps you took to turn things around.

The first thing I did was to sit down with a number of colleagues and discuss how we could make improvements. One of the first things we did was to meet with the team from Which? to discuss the findings in more detail.

We decided to launch a comprehensive review of car parking known as ‘The Big Conversation’, to find out how our car parks could be improved, while still keeping them safe, accessible and fair for the hundreds of thousands of people that use them each year.

1,100 patients, visitors, staff, volunteers and local people took part in the review, which asked a variety of questions. These included whether our charges and associated penalties are fair, whether there is priority parking for those that need it, and whether we should stop clamping vehicles for parking infringements.

3. How did your patient and staff consultation, the ‘Big Conversation’, help you improve your car parks?

As a Trust, we are committed to involve our patients and staff, as well as visitors and volunteers, as much as we can in decisions we make about our hospitals.

We promoted The Big Conversation as much as we could, both to the people that use our hospitals, but also in local newspapers and radio – we wanted to get as many views as possible.

After analysing the results of the review, the Trust Board has agreed a number of significant changes that will take place over the coming year.

The changes include: stopping clamping and making sure patients and visitors are refunded for their parking if their appointment is delayed by more than an hour.

We also agreed that parking charges for patients, visitors and staff will not increase over the next two financial years and we won’t be charging on Bank Holidays. In addition, patients and visitors will be able to park without any charge for the first 20 minutes of their stay.

We are also creating more disabled parking spaces and allocating more free short-stay ‘drop off’ spaces to make parking as convenient as possible. Other changes include:

  • Improving the signs around the hospital to let people know about concessions available and that the first 20 minutes are free.
  • All payment machines will be changed to accept credit and debit cards (as well as cash).
  • Introducing a new ‘barrier’ system at Sutton Hospital (which is currently ‘pay and display’) will mean patients and visitors no longer have to guess how long they’ll need a space for.
  • Redesigning the angles of some car park spaces to make them easier to use.
  • Introducing discounts for people who drive electric, biofuel or dual fuel cars to help support our commitment to environmentally-friendly travel.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t scrap charges altogether and we’re unable to increase the number of parking spaces at our hospitals. But we do hope that our patients, visitors and staff will agree that the changes we’re making are substantial and prove that we’ve listened to their feedback.

4. What are the wider benefits of a better car park on the hospital at large? Are there any other improvements planned for your car parks in the next year?

People who come into hospital, whether as patients or visitors, are often understandably anxious, concerned or vulnerable. We are committed to doing whatever we can to make the experience they have in our hospitals better – and that includes making car parking as easy and stress-free as possible.

As you can see, we’ve made a huge raft of improvements as a result of the Which? survey, but we’ll continue to listen to feedback from our patients, visitors, staff and volunteers, to make sure we’re running some of the best NHS car parks in the country.

Have you ever felt frustrated by your hospital’s car park? Do you think St Helier Hospital has done enough to make parking fair and stress free and would you like your local NHS hospital to take the same prescription?

Comments
Member

It can sometimes be difficult to know how long a hospital visit will last, so pre-payment is not the best option. For example, a recent visit to A&E at my local hospital took only 20 minutes whereas an appointment two days later took well over 2 hours. Commonsense suggests that we need a system that allows the visitor to pay the appropriate amount when leaving the car park.

There should also be the facility to pay at a later date. Getting someone to hospital may be a higher priority than finding change for a parking meter.

Member
cliff says:
24 May 2011

Two major NHS hospitals in my area were not included in the report. Kent & Canterbury at Canterbury and William Harvey at Ashford, Kent.Can it be that there parking arrangements are beyond reproach?

Member

Agreed – I’ve tried them both and they are appalling – in Canterbury – park elsewhere and walk a mile or get a bus!

Member

Thanks very much for commenting. To make sure we were comparing like for like, we only looked at hospitals with an A and E, so Kent and Canterbury was not included. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to check that we’d covered all the right hospitals, we missed William Harvey. However, if you are having problems with the car parks at any hospital then we’d advise that you contact them to let them know. If your local hospital wasn’t covered by our survey, you can find it on NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/servicedirectories/Pages/ServiceSearch.aspx?ServiceType=Hospital, where you can also leave feedback.

To add another story, I don’t drive so hadn’t realised how much of a problem this was for hospital patients and visitors, until Which? started this campaign. But when I mentioned it to my Dad he explained that at his local hospital, where he’s been visiting my grandmother regularly, it’s very common for visitors and regular patients to park in the Sainsbury’s across the road. They can guarantee themselves a space and buy things in the supermarket rather than pay for parking. It’s shocking that visitors and patients have to understand this ‘trick’ to be in with a chance of getting fair parking charges and a space, and it’s not ideal at all for patients who have mobility issues or need emergency attention.

Member
Lawrence says:
27 May 2011

Ashford also has an A&E and is a major hospital in the SE; but also left out. It does have an inadeqate, expensive, car park that you have to pay for in advance.
I also have experiance of Canterbury where it is rare to find a parking place. They do have dedicated coach from one of the park & rides, but this means parking 40 mins earlier.

Member

I’ve been looking after my wife who had a hip replacement and (luckily) she is covered by insurance so the operation and phisiotherapy have been at the local Spire hospital. The don’t charge for parking and I’ve never had a problem finding a space. That has been a great reduction in hassle and I’ve been very grateful for it.

I think part of the problem with the NHS is that as all medical treatment is free and they are always short of money they HAVE to charge for everything that doesn’t breach the guidelines. Wouldn’t it be better if the income from car parking could be covered some other way and the need for machines and having change and time to walk about and pay and display and all that were done away with?

Member
Nuala Gormley says:
27 May 2011

What an encouraging response to your parking problem! It’s fantastic to hear about a hospital maangement team that genuinely engages with its service users to help design a range of improvements.I am not alone in Edinburgh to have recently experienced the added stress of over £100 in hospital parking charges when admitted. My husband, trying to maintain a semblance of family life, was in and out of the car park umpteen times and managed to repeatedly trigger optimal charges. At Sick Kids, the management have tried to work with the Council to reduce parking stress, but it remains an added burden for families who are coping with plenty already. Well done St Helier’s.

Member

I have just been reading through this report on the Hospital car parks and would like to have seen it include the car parks in Scotland. I know most of them are now free but there are still ones in Scotland where you have to pay. My local one – Ninewells hospital, Dundee – charges exorbitant fees and does not allow people to even drop off patients without charging them