Disabled patients and visitors hit back at University Hospital of North Staffordshire parking charges
DISABLED patients and visitors at Staffordshire's biggest hospital have condemned a decision to make them pay for parking for the first time.
The University Hospital of North Staffordshire will introduce the fees for blue badge holders from April, as part of a number of changes to parking.
While cancer and renal patients will still be exempt, disabled people will be expected to pay the same as other motorists.
A spokesman for the hospital said 27 out of 168 trusts in the UK already charged blue badge holders, and that the fees at the hospital were still relatively low.
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But the plans have attracted widespread criticism.
Stephen Langham drives his disabled neighbour June Clark to appointments at the hospital every month.
The 55-year-old, from Leek, said: "This is the most ridiculous decision I have heard for a long time. It will create so much bad feeling among the public I don't know why they have made it."
Wheelchair-bound Mrs Clark, aged 82, who suffers from diabetes, said: "I am here so often it will cost me a small fortune now. And it's not as if it's somewhere I choose to be and pay for the privilege of being here."
Disability rights campaigner Councillor Terry Crowe, Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, said he would be discussing the plans with his fellow councillors.
Mr Crowe, who needs a wheelchair to get around after contracting polio as a child, said disabled people were being made to feel like a 'drain on society'.
He said: "People with disabilities are losing out everywhere. Benefits are being cut, and now this. When I had my heart attack I had to go to the hospital three or four times a week. If you have to pay £3 a time, that's a lot of money."
The hospital will be raising the minimum parking charge for four hours from £2 to £3 – the first increase in six years. Fees for longer stays will remain the same. The flat £6.11 a month fee for staff parking permits will be replaced with a sliding scale, where workers will be charged 0.5 per cent of their salary.
A hospital spokesman said: "The trust has to balance the needs of patients, visitors and staff. The parking fees at UHNS are still significantly lower than many other trusts nationwide. It is important that we are able to keep parking fees low for patients, visitors and staff. However, we need to ensure the creation and maintenance of parking spaces does not impact on the finances allocated for direct patient care."