£60k golf buggies to help University Hospital of North Staffordshire's disabled patients reach main entrance
GOLF-STYLE buggies are to be used at North Staffordshire's new £400 million hospital to ferry disabled patients to the main entrance.
The carts will pick up passengers from disabled parking spaces at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire after managers admitted the bays had been built too far away.
The Sentinel revealed last month how patients with wheelchairs, walking sticks and crutches had been left to struggle 70 metres (229ft) from the nearest disabled bay to the front door of the new-look hospital, which opened in March. And the distance nearly doubled from the spaces furthest away.
Now the hospital is set to spend up to £60,000 on two buggies in a short-term attempt to solve the problem.
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A hospital spokesman said: "We have been speaking to patients' groups and residents' associations and we have found there is an issue.
"The bays are too far away from the main hospital entrance and it's not acceptable to expect patients with blue badges for disabled parking to walk.
"We've looked into the issue and found buggies are used in a similar way at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and have been very successful, and we have found some funds to buy two.
"The idea is they will pick up disabled patients from the edge of the parking area and take them to the main entrance.
"The hospital site is still in transition, and there is further work on car parking to be carried out, but we believe these buggies will help to improve the situation for the time-being."
Disability groups had lodged an official complaint with hospital chief executive Julia Bridgewater over the location of the 70 disabled spaces.
To qualify for a blue badge, applicants must prove they cannot walk further than 50 metres (164ft) without being in pain. This is less than the distance from the disabled bays to the entrance.
Some disabled patients had claimed they were having to lean against posts to rest because the distance was too far for them to walk in one go.
Pam Bryan, from Weston Coyney, who is vice-chairman of Stoke-on-Trent District Disability Network, said: "The buggies are better than nothing, but they are not a permanent answer to the problem.
"There will be questions about what happens if the buggies breakdown, and what sort of times they will be available.
"It is, however, good to see the hospital taking the situation seriously."
The hospital is now recruiting for volunteers to help drive the buggies around the complex.
Anyone interested should contact the University Hospital of North Staffordshire Charity Trust on 01782 676444.