/ 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?


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.

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?

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

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

Linda says:
27 May 2011

My mother was in St Helier for 12 days following an operation. Our experience of the car park was:
1. We always found a space and rarely had to queue to get in.
2. The machines either don’t give change for notes (we didn’t see a notice saying so) or they were out of change – unlikely. Robbed us twice. We couldn’t find anyone after 6pm to sort out a refund.
3. A visit cost us about £4 or £5 each tiime. For frequent visitors this is too much and we did not qualify for a discount.
4. Finding £1 coins is a pain. Didn’t see a credit card machine.
5. 20 minutes free parking is too short. What can you do in that time? If it were 1 hr people could do a short visit and leave. This would encourage people not to stay longer than they need. If you want to stay on it was good to know that every 1/2 hour would cost another £1.

William says:
27 May 2011

I am disappointed that your survey only covers England, the rest of the UK has the same problems.
At our local hospital, Altnagelvin, Londonderry, many staff arrive between 8.00am and 9.am and overflow the staff car parks. There is then not enough parking left for the rest; out patients, visitors etc. Most car parks are free, but this attracts non hospital parkers which compounds the problem.
The two small pay parks also fill up quickly.
The solution that the local Trust appear to favour is to introduce more pay car parks for visitors and out patients. Staff are also part of the problem arriving with one person per car, but the trust do not appear to grasp this thorny problem.

helen clements says:
27 May 2011

good job iv got a 4×4 you need you have to off road to park at the QE at kingslynn in Norfolk!

I am astonished that Which? seems to have made no effort to encourage higher levels of walking and cycling to hospital to deal with the core hospital parking issue: there are too many cars fighting over a limited number of spaces. Apart from one arrival by ambulance(!) my family and I have always cycled to the hospital, whether visiting, or arriving for treatment. Parking is free and it’s much closer to the wards. A few doctors cycle to work here, but absolutely no effort is made to put it forward as an option for patients and visitors. Bizarre!

How far do you think people who need to go to hospital can walk or cycle? I live in S. Hants that is relatively densely populated and where there are 3 large hospitals but each about 10 miles away.

I am a volunteer at one and there they have taken steps by car sharing etc to reduce staff car parking enough to double public parking. It had pay on exit but there is only one exit and chaos when a barrier broke down. The local council has also introduced a 10 min frequency park & ride passing the hospital but it does not run in the evenings or at night. I see no excuse for any parking charge at night that are clearly emergencies. There was also a system where a ward/A&E can issue an exemption in exceptional circumstances but it has suffered from abuse and I believe is closed.

A lot of the people who go to hospital are visitors, so David has a good point.

Bailey says:
27 May 2011

It is incredible that the NHS is allowed to imposr a tax / salary claw back on its employees. How is it done – by charging them to park when they come to work (James Cook University Hospital for one). If you work for private industry you dont get charged to park in the company car park. All advertised salaries for Nurses should carry a note (deduct xxx£ for yearly car parking) before calculating take home pay. Ridiculous, and very unfair.

Yes, and to add insult to injury, this has to be paid out of taxed income.

Without commenting on the details, ‘Which’ deserve a big thank you for making a very positive contribution to easing this nation-wide source of feeling ‘unfair’. It makes Hospital administrators appear greedy,unsympathetic and, bureaucratic, and leaves recipients of the service feeling very hard done by. Let’s hope this example is the first of many to consult, learn and amend.

Sue says:
27 May 2011

The idea of cycling to hospital is fine if you’re fit and live locally to the hospital you’re visiting. Unfortunately for many the hospital is some miles away and it is often the case that the older you get the more likely you are to need to be hospitalised or attend as an outpatient. This also makes cycling less than viable for partners and friends as they may well be less than fit themselves so unable to cycle. If we could avoid the exorbitant charges we have had to pay recently, when both my husband and myself have been attending regularly, we would.

Parking at QA Cosham, Hampshire has improved a little since the main building work has finished but still needs to improve. There is often insufficient space in the main car park and not enough monitoring of the very few pick-up/drop-off spaces so they get abused.

As for cycling, I am 68 and take my 90 year old mother 25 miles to the hospital over the South Downs and back. Not a practical solution.

It seems to have been missed by the accountants and lawyers that ran the NHS that stress causes or exacerbates illness. Therefore all the organisational stress surrounding hospital procedures may be costing money in terms of generating more illness that the health service has to spend money curing. Maybe now that GPs are calling the tune this will change.

We mustn’t forget the staff needs as well. It is economic madness to pay consultants £50 an hour (or more) then expect then to park 15minutes walk from the hospital, if they can find a space at all. No private company I know of does this. William Harvey at Ashford is one such hospital.

Graham Griffiths says:
27 May 2011

I’ve been to Epsom Hospital every day for the last 3 weeks (part of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust) and used the car park. If the car parks have improved, I’m glad I didn’t have to go last year!
Of those 3 weeks, on only two days have both pay machines been working, and for only 3 or 4 days have both entrance gates been working.
The layout of the parking spaces is tricky to say the least, the spaces are narrow.
The entrance is poorly signposted and you have to negoiate a strange slalom to enter.
As the prices are high and cards are not accepted you need a large amount of change, with no facility to get any. We attempted to use the ‘notes’ facility once but it didn’t work.
Having said that we have always been able to find a space.

Dick Gosling says:
28 May 2011

I have been working extensively in South Korea for the last few years, and am used to their use of number plate recognition technology on nearly all public parking places apart from street parking.

They also use it on their expressways, which are mostly toll roads, and this speeds up the queues at the toll booths. Barriers are not required, because your number plate has been photographed and you will be fined if you leave without paying.

In both these cases there are polite, uniformed attendants at the pay booths that will either charge you the appropriate rate, or accept a fee waiver if one has been provided.

In any case, you only pay for what you have used and there is no need for clamping and abuse from officiious .parking attendants

Graham Cooter says:
29 May 2011

Dear Sirs
As a recent visitor to St Helier hospital I would like to give you my first hand impression of the car parking.
On busy days like Monday mornings the car park barrier indicates that the car park is full yet when you gain entry you find there are plenty of spaces, yet the queue is back to the road.
Concessionary car park tickets can only be obtained if the person you would like to visit has been in the hospital for more than 2 weeks (official from the nurses)
I personally found 1 one notice about concessions and that was very difficult to see,
you really have to know about the concessions before you go to the hospital.

Ann Burgess says:
30 May 2011

I’m really disappointed that St. Helier has taken to political ‘save the planet’ measures rather than having compassion on the people who really need it. My husband was desperately sick and hospitalised for three and a half months last year: he nearly died several times. He started in St. Helier Hospital for 13 days and was distressed every time I left him. I was there for around 6 hours a day which cost a lot of money. There was absolutely no financial relief.
Anyone who drops in for twenty minutes would probably not mind paying a pound for such a flying visit as it would be unlikely to be either a really serious case or the next of kin visiting, as was the case with us. It used to take me a good five minutes to get to his bedside from the car park so that would only be a ten minute visit. A far better solution would have been to say that everybody pays, but only for the first hour. Close relatives dealing with a life threatening situation are already distressed and the patients need them to be there to help with chores the seriously understaffed (as we found) nursing service has no time for; as well as to provide comfort and support. They don’t need to be deterred from this task by throwing vast sums of money at the car park. And it’s certainly not the time to have to think about buying an electric car!

Greg says:
31 May 2011

No one bringing a person into hospital or visiting a patient should be expected to pay any money to do so. It is an absolute disgrace that this country is getting so money grabbing, even to the point of when you are losing a member of your family and you have to think about coins in your pocket, and fines. Let’s face it, it is totally offensive.

Meantime, in populated areas, people could take advantage of hospitals to use their space for convenient parking. So what do you do? You introduce a system that registers vehicle numbers of legitimate visitors when they come into the hospital and try to stop people just parking for free. Big penalties for those that do.

But hey ho, we don’t live in a kind society here, do we really.