Councillors and the public challenged Kingston hospital representatives over new parking charges for blue badge holders at a specially convened council meeting on Wednesday evening.
At the meeting of the Health Overview Panel, members of the public and councillors questioned why the decision, which was made in early April 2017, was taken without any consultation process and was only announced on 5 January this year, just over two weeks before the charges were put in place.
During public questions at the meeting, Surbiton resident Jane Bransby, a blue badge holder, pointed out that most Kingston town centre car parks charge £1.60 per hour, while the cost of parking in the hospital is now £3.50 for two hours.
She asked the hospital representatives: “How can it be morally justified that it will cost more for disabled people to attend hospital than for able-bodied people to go shopping?”
Concerns were also raised about blue badge holders choosing instead to park on Galsworthy Road, where they may park on double-yellow lines for three hours. There are fears that this may make the road unsafe. A highways representative at the meeting said this would be monitored and changes brought in if necessary.
Councillor Mary Clark, of the Kingston Independent Residents Group, pointed out during the meeting that the role of the Health Overview Panel is to scrutinise and to recommend, but that the committee had been afforded the chance to do neither during the course of this decision-making process.
She asked: “Why was this kept a secret for ten months?”
A Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said in a statement: “The Trust appreciates that car parking charges are an emotive subject and the decision to make this change was taken after considerable discussion.
“The award of a blue badge to an applicant is based on their mobility and the challenges that they face due to this.
“More than 50% of NHS Trusts in England already charge blue badge holders for parking. The running of car parks and managing a secure environment costs money and it is not possible to divert this from the main NHS Trust budget.
“The Trust accepts we could have done more to involve and engage local people and organisations before introducing the changes and will ensure they are involved in the implementation review over the next three months.
“There is a need to enhance and increase the disabled spaces onsite and to increase the policing of these, and these costs need to be covered.”
Parking charges for blue badge holders were introduced at the hospital from 22 January this year, coinciding with handing over the running of the car park to CP Plus, though the hospital has stressed in communications that the two are not linked.