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Free parking for disabled at Watford General Hospital scrapped
Disabled people visiting Watford General Hospital will no longer be able to park for free, after the trust which runs the site scrapped the scheme in the interest of "fairness and equality".
From April, blue-badge holders will have to pay the same £4 minimum parking charge as any other visitors to West Herts NHS Hospitals Trust sites in Watford, St Albans and Hemel.
This is just months after the trust rejected Watford Borough Council’s calls for a lower, £2.50 minimum charge, because it was locked into a contract until 2015.
Leigh Hutchings, from Disability Watford, said: "I heard rumours about this but I didn’t think they’d actually do it.
"Disabled people are being squeezed enough as it is, what with being reassessed for benefits. People don’t realise how expensive being disabled is.
"Someone’s made a decision without thinking about the consequences. People won’t go to hospital as much as they need to.
"When people think of disability they only think of people in wheelchairs, but if you’ve got cancer and can’t breathe properly then you can’t walk very far either."
Mr Hutchings said Disability Watford was due to meet with the hospital trust to discuss the new fee.
He added: "We disagree with the fee, but we’ll wait and meet with them before launching any campaign against it. We’re not happy, but hopefully we can turn this around without any conflict."
In November the trust rejected Watford Borough Council’s recommendation to reduce the parking charge cut to £2.50, as it would be too costly to break its contract with CP Plus.
Mayor of Watford Dorothy Thornhill said: "I’m just staggered and I cannot believe the situation is so desperate that they have to do this. It’s a step too far.
"It’s such a bad PR move, parking is the one thing that people complain about constantly. I’d be asking if the negative PR warrants the financial benefit."
Currently the cheapest parking ticket at the Vicarage Road hospital is £4 for three hours, which drivers have to buy no matter how short their visit. After that motorists have to pay £6 for five hours or £12 to park all day.
Louise Gaffney, director of strategy and infrastructure, said: "This decision was not made lightly by the trust board.
"It will create fairness and equality for everyone needing to use the hospital car parks. Trust staff with a blue-badge are charged for parking on site.
Ms Gaffney said there will still be priority spaces for disabled visitors, discounts for frequently visitors, and free 30-minute bays.
She added: "Many other NHS Trusts and local authorities charge Blue Badge holders to use car parking facilities."
In December, trust director, Liz Rippon said no profit was made from car parking charges or fines.
This was after figures were obtained under the Freedom of Information act, showing how since 2008, more than 7,000 fines have been handed to drivers visiting relatives and loved ones in Watford General Hospital, costing £50,000.