DISABLED badge holders in south Warwickshire are some of the only people in the country to be charged to park at local hospitals.
South Warwickshire Foundation Trust’s Warwick, Leamington and Stratford Hospital sites are among 140 across the country which charge badge holders. Nationally there are some 1,070 NHS car parks which do not charge patients.
The figures put SWFT-run hospitals hospitals in the 11 per cent which charge disabled patients.
The figures were revealed by Labour, with the party hitting out at disabled people still being charged despite Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt describing the charges as a ‘stealth tax on the vulnerable’
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “It is a disgrace Jeremy Hunt has done nothing to tackle parking charges for disabled people, despite acknowledging himself that they are unfair.
“Disabled people often have no choice but to drive to hospital, and it’s wrong to target them with parking fees.
“The truth is hospitals are being forced to introduce or increase parking charges because they are desperately short of cash.”
This year SWFT has made more than £1million in car parking which it says has been reinvested.
But Elizabeth Dixon, who is a member of the trust’s Equality and Diversity Group and also the founder of Accessible Stratford – which works to make the town more disability-friendly – said she was happy to pay the charges.
She told the Observer: “Personally I have no objection to the car park charges and through my work with SWFT they allow extra time at the end of car parking for ‘loading and unloading’ vehicles used by blue badge users so they do not go into a higher charge.
”There is also provision in place for anyone – not just blue badge users – to have free parking if they receive certain benefits.”
She also says car parking machines were disability-friendly.
The trust says its charges were in line with national guidelines.
A spokeswoman told the Observer: “The trust’s car parking charges are in line with the national travel cost scheme, which states that the only exemption to car parking charges is for patients who are on means tested benefits. This is in line with other public sites. If blue badge holders are on means tested benefits they can claim these costs back.
“The trust do not aim to make a profit from car parks and all income is reinvested to ensure that they remain safe and secure.
“Without charging, necessary maintenance work would have to be funded by the trust, impacting on the money which is available for direct patient care.”