I AM writing in response to the recent article regarding the re-introduction of parking charges for visitors and patients at Airedale Hospital (AGH).

It states that AGH was responding to a lack of spaces in the hospital car parks and the charges were there as a means to better manage the parking.

Firstly, I observed the visitor car parks several times during the week prior to charges being re-introduced. Both mid-morning and mid-afternoon, especially in the main east car park, there were always plenty of free spaces. If parking capacity was a problem, then the surrounding streets would already have been experiencing an increase in hospital parking overflow. All through lockdown and whilst there have been no parking charges, the streets of Steeton and Eastburn have in the main been free from hospital staff and visitors parking. Therefore it seems more likely that the only reason for the re-introduction of charges is as a money-making exercise.

The second point is the scale of the charges imposed by AGH. NHS parking policy guidance states that hospital parking charges should be set with reference to parking charges in the local area and it recommends the use of council car parks as reference. If AGH were to follow this policy using rates in Silsden, Keighley or even Skipton – Silsden is £1 for two hours, Keighley £1.40 for two hours in council car parks or 50p for two hours in the Airedale Centre, whilst in Skipton the charge for two hours is £2.30.

AGH, meanwhile, set its minimum charge as £3 for two hours – more expensive than any of these. They have previously stated that they use as a comparison Leeds hospitals and BRI, which are clearly in completely different locations and do have pressures from other sources for their parking spaces. So rather than paying the rate for local car parks, effectively visitors to AGH are paying the same rate as parking in the centre of Leeds. From what I can determine, the rate for two hours at AGH is actually more expensive than both Leeds and Bradford hospitals.

Since the only alternative parking for AGH is the streets of Steeton and Eastburn, then in fact the comparison for the purpose of setting a hospital rate should actually be £0.0. All that happens when the hospital re-introduces charges and puts its barriers back in operation is that people start parking on the streets, because they are free, and which has already been observed over the last week or so in several areas.

Another point made by the NHS guidelines is that visitors should only pay for the time that they use and that to encourage more frequent turnover of parking spaces, especially with pay on exit, then parking should be in one-hour increments. The minimum parking period at AGH is two hours, which then jumps to four hours. There is no incentive for visitors to cut short their stay, if they are paying £3 they are going to stay for 2 hours. This would seem especially important in the current climate where Covid is escalating again and the hospital is encouraging visitors to keep their visit short.

Also if this is about managing parking spaces, why is it necessary to charge so much at evenings and weekends when all the car parks are practically deserted? Surely it should only be necessary to charge during peak hours.

If the hospital had any real care for the community it serves, it would not be charging the exorbitant rates it currently does, which merely leave its car park empty and drives people to park on the neighbouring streets. It would allow people to pay for shorter time periods to encourage people, particularly those who are visiting, to keep their stay shorter and increase the turnover of parking spaces. Also it would commit to not re-introduce charges for staff who have been working extremely hard all through this pandemic and should not be paying to park in a safe location close to their work.



* David Moss, managing director of AGH Solutions, responds: "As with all hospitals in the West Yorkshire region, we reintroduced parking charges for patients and visitors when it was confirmed that we would no longer receive national funding to offset this loss of parking income.

"At the time of introducing our new tariffs in 2017, we compared parking prices at five other hospitals in West Yorkshire, these being Bradford, Mid Yorkshire, Leeds, Huddersfield and Calderdale and Harrogate, to provide comparable charges for our patients. The barrier car parks only charge patients for the time they stay, which prevents patients overpaying on pay-and-display tickets. We also introduced an option whereby patients can park for the first 20 minutes for free; 36,000 patients a year benefit from free parking as a result of this whereas previously they would have had to pay for parking. We also offer reduced rates for patients attending for cancer treatment and visitors to ICU or our neonatal unit, and relatives of patients who may be in hospital for an extended time. Full details of all our parking concessions are on the trust website at airedale-trust.nhs.uk/patients-visitors/parking.

"We appreciate that parking on local streets has been an issue and we regularly communicate with our staff and ask them to be considerate of our neighbours when parking. In addition we have supported the council with the new permit system which has unfortunately been delayed due to Covid-19. In line with national guidance, parking currently remains free for rust staff which should also alleviate any off-site parking.

"All money received from car-parking is reinvested in improving the patient environment and experience at the trust and in the parking infrastructure. Over recent years this has included a brand new 330-space car park, helping the trust to protect spaces for patients and visitors, making the process of finding a parking space as easy as possible for them.”