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?