"Car Parking at Swindon's Great Western Hospital."

About: The Great Western Hospital / General surgery

(as a relative),

There has been much spoken in the media regarding the GWH recent decision to do away with parking ticket machines in favour of a new pay on exit barrier system.

Recently my brother was terminally ill at the hospital, and I was telephoned at home by the staff of Saturn Ward to come to the hospital, as he was very poorly indeed.

Having picked up his wife on the way, we duly arrived at the hospital car park around 2.00 pm during a week day, entering through one of the barriers and collecting a ticket from the barrier vending machine, and proceeded to drive around in a circle for all of 10 minutes trying to find a vacant parking space.

As one would expect having my brother on my mind, I did not give any consideration to the payment required when exiting. After a traumatic visit to my brother's bedside, and trying to pacify his upset wife, we eventually returned to the car, and found an exit barrier machine. Not being aware of the system I entered the same ticket in to the slot that I had taken on entry, expecting to be requested to enter money to pay for my allotted time spent there, but the ticket was returned to me each time.

I thought to myself, 'what do I do now? as I cannot see any method of payment. By this time a queue of vehicles had formed behind me, and I began to feel some what perturbed that I was holding all of them up. I then noticed an intercom button on the barrier machine which I pressed, and a lady answered, and said, 'are you having problems sir?' I replied yes, and that I could not get the barrier to raise and that there was a queue of traffic behind me, and that I wanted to pay.

She then said to me, 'didnt you read the signs when you entered the car park?' as they are clearly displayed, to the effect that you need to put your entry ticket in to one of the machines that are located by the doors of the hospital, and insert your money for an exit ticket. By this time the people in the vehicles behind me were getting annoyed and I became extremely agitated and annoyed, as I was already under severe stress, and I replied that my brother was seriously ill with pneumonia, and the last thing that would have been on my mind was reading signs when entering the car park, and that one shouldn't need to pay to park at a bloody hospital in any case. (Apologies for the language but the person was very persistent).

She then replied, as if she was doing me some sort of great favour, I will raise the barrier this time, but the next time you come in take the time to read the signs in future.

Certain parts of the United Kingdom do not have, or have abolished parking charges at hospitals, and it goes without saying that medical and ancillary staff should not be required to pay in any case as it is their place of work, and I can't think of many firms or business that do this. Indeed charging to park at hospitals is a new manifestation of the last few decades dreamed up by accountants and the money men, which should never have seen the light of day in the first place.

The car park at the GWH has always been woefully small and inadequate which is down to the people the planned the PFI hospital, as it may be the case that if larger more adequate parking areas had been provided then parking could have been free for staff and visitors alike, without the old chestnut of an excuse continually being trotted out by the Trust that the congestion is due to a lack of spaces, so as these charges can continue to be levied. Whatever happened to 'NHS services should be free at the point of access?'

Thank you.

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Response from Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Thank you for your feedback. We are sorry to hear that you were unhappy with the car parking system during your visit and for any anxiety caused.

The new barrier system at GWH was introduced to make it easier for patients and visitors to park on site, many of them told us they wanted a system where they didn’t have to worry about whether they had put enough money on their ticket whilst in the hospital. The pay-on-exit system now means patients and visitors only pay for the time they need, meaning that they don’t have to worry about their parking running out while they are at an appointment or visiting a friend or relative (or paying too much).

The new system has also seen the number of public car parking spaces increase by 10%, so that people can find a space more easily, particularly during busy times. Whilst there are busier times of the week, since the new system launched at the end of November, there has not been a single occasion when the visitor car park has been full - something which frequently happened under the previous system.

Pay stations are situated at all the hospital entrances and clear signage is in place to make people aware of the pay on exit system, we also have signage at the entry barriers to remind patients and visitors that they need to pay before you get back to the car but we do appreciate however that you would have had other things on your mind at the time. On this occasion the intercom operator lifted the barrier for you recognising the diffciult circumstances you were dealing with.

We know that hospital parking and the charges associated are a contentious issue for some. Unfortunately the costs of maintaining and managing the car park need to be met by the users of the car park because if parking were to be free, the costs to maintain it would need to be met from front line services, something which we do not want to consider. Our aim is to make it as easy as possible and we'll use your feedback to ensure we have the right signage in place so that car park users know that they need to pay at the machines in all of the main entrances.