Angry residents accused Kingston Hospital of “breaking the law” over its introduction of parking charges for Blue Badge holders (BBHs) at a council meeting on Wednesday February 21.
The Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel (HOP) met to discuss Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s decision to start charging disabled drivers the same flat rates for Blue Badge spaces as regular car parking bays – a policy which came into effect on January 22.
Local resident and BBH Jane Bransby described the decision as “not morally right or defensible”.
She challenged representatives from the Trust and accused them of “contravening the Equalities Act 2010” which requires organisations to avoid placing disabled people at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people when accessing facilities or services.
Bransby said: “If it takes me three times as long to get around as an able bodied person and I am being charged by the length of time I am at hospital, how am I not being disadvantaged?
“Basically you are breaking the law because you are offering no time concessions whatsoever for people with disabilities.”
Attendees in the public gallery applauded Bransby following her contribution.
In response, Charles Hanford, director of estates, facilities and capital development at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said patients who faced any hardship could claim back the costs of parking through the health travel costs scheme.
He added: “In terms of the time it takes disabled people to get around you are absolutely right, we were wrong on that and we will address it.”
A review of the impact of introducing charges for BBHs will take place over the first three months of implementation, led by the director of nursing and quality at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust Sally Brittain, who also attended the meeting.
The review’s conclusions are due to be communicated to stakeholders in July.
There are currently 32 parking bays for disabled drivers at the hospital and part of the £250,000 of estimated income from charging BBHs is to be used to increase that number to 60.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Sushila Abraham criticised the absense of Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s chief executive Ann Radmore and lack of consultation before the Trust’s decision to introduce Blue Badge charges was made on 5 April 2017.
Abraham said: “There is no excuse why the CEO should not be here whatever meeting she had. This is an important issue and she failed to tell this committee about this in December.
“The members deserve an answer and the residents deserve an answer.”
Radmore notified local stakeholders including councillors of the new charges by email on 5 January.
Abraham also seconded a recommendation put forward by fellow Liberal Democrat Councillor Malcolm Self calling for an immediate halt to charges for BBHs.
The panel approved the recommendation by a majority vote however the decision is non-binding on the hospital.
Speaking to the Kingston Courier after the meeting, Abraham said: “We were quite shocked. I would like to see the hospital taking on board what was said.”
Lisa Ehlers, CEO of the Kingston Centre for Independent Living (KCIL), an organisation that provides services for people with disabilities, also welcomed the recommendation.
“There are so many things they did not take into account. They did not do an equality assessment, they did not consult with people. It was outrageous really,” she said.
Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was approached for further comment but had not responded at the time of publication.