Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wheelchairs, Car Parks and PFI's

Monstra mihi pecuniammotto of the N & N car park.

Big story of the day: hospital car parks are costing patients and visitors lots of money. Some hospitals are making a lot of money from car parking charges. Why?

I have practical experience of this problem. When my father-in-law was ill in the Norfolk & Norwich, it car parking fees were paid to visit him or take him for out-patient appointments. Why? Because, after the hospital moved to its new, purpose-built site, it was no longer possible to avoid the car park charges. There simply is no other place to park, despite the fact that the new hospital is two to three miles from the city centre. The old hospital did provide free parking on the street – if you were willing to look for it and walk for a distance. New hospital – new regime. Everybody pays. There simply is no parking anywhere nearby.

This was brought painfully to my attention when I took the old chap to the Norfolk & Norwich for an out-patient appointment. Into the car park – charges incurred. OK, I was expecting that. Leaving him in the car, I went into the hospital to get a wheelchair. Absolutely essential for a man in his 90's recovering from a hernia operation. Anyone care to quibble?

No wheelchairs appeared to be available. I asked the receptionist where I could get one. I was told to go and look for one. So. I did. No luck. Nice new hospital. No wheelchairs. Call me picky, but I would have thought that in a hospital you might find a few wheelchairs. Seems like essential kit. Not as important as a MRI scanner perhaps but nevertheless essential. Not at the N & N – nice new hospital – no wheelchairs - other than a few old ones they brought from the old hospital.

I went to the ward where the old boy was to be treated. No chairs. No advice. The impression was given (not very subtlety) that it was my problem. I wandered about, racking up car park charges, until eventually I managed to find a chair – way up on a different ward. I felt a bit guilty. Perhaps, the person who was using it only left it to go to the loo? I took it anyway.

Meanwhile, father-in-law had been sitting in the car park in 90 degree heat for about 30 minutes. Now that's what I call customer care - never mind health care. Finally I delivered him to the ward and, with little else to do whilst he was treated, I started chatting to the nurses about the lack of wheelchairs. My point was: why not use some of the money from the car park to purchase more wheelchairs? They were horrified. Firstly, and conspiratorially, they confided to me that the reason they were so short of wheelchairs was (wait for it) people pinch them. I was shocked. Why? It appeared that people, like me for example, who had elderly, immobile relatives to transport home simply wheeled the old folks out to the car, loaded them up, with the hospital's wheelchair, and drove off. Why, said I? No idea said they.

Do you suppose, just for argument's sake, I said, that perhaps they might need a wheelchair when they got home to transport their old-uns from the car to the door? Rather like they needed one to transport from ward to car? Come on, what do you think? My attempt at subtle humour was wasted.

Not to seem completely flummoxed I went home and wrote to the hospital, asking, politely, why they couldn't buy some more (actually many more is what I suggested!) wheelchairs with the car park money. Seemed logical to me. People arrive in cars, pay car park charges, need wheelchairs. Solution, use car park money to buy wheelchairs. OK, not exactly rocket science, I admit it.

Eventually I did get a nice letter back, explaining simply, as if both I and my scheme were a bit simple actually, that the car park was not owned by the hospital but was part of the PFI initiative – for which, as a local community needing a hospital, we should be extremely grateful. The fact that this is complete nonsense seems never to have occurred to them. I leave it up to you.

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