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Patient 'horrified' at West Herts NHS Hospitals Trust decision to scrap free disabled parking
The decision to scrap free parking for disabled people visiting Watford General Hospital will cost people "an absolute fortune".
From April, blue-badge holders will have to pay the same £4 minimum parking charge as any other visitor to West Herts NHS Hospitals Trust sites in Watford, St Albans and Hemel.
The trust, which makes no profit from car parking tickets or fines, claimed the decision was to promote "fairness and equality".
Hospital regular Reg Youngman, 74, from Watford, said: "I’m horrified, it’s ridiculous. I find walking extremely difficult because I have to use two sticks. It’s a 20-minute to walk up for me.
"They say there are plenty of disabled places but the building work has taken over most of them and the rest are usually full up so I have to park at the bottom.
"I have to visit every week for blood tests or to see the cardiologist and urologist, I’m a pensioner and it’s going to cost me an absolute fortune.
"The slope from the hospital is an absolute killer, if it’s slippery or wet it’s even more difficult."
The news came just months after the trust said it was unable to lower the charge to £2.50, 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."
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."