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Comment: Visiting the sick now being denied to all but the rich
Parking at Watford General Hospital is an expensive ordeal I would wish on no one.
Its £4 minimum fee has been a source of anger in the town for years. It is a punitive charge on people who usually have no option but to pay it.
Anger over the charges has translated into political action with Watford Borough Council examining the issue last year.
The result was the council requested the authority in charge of the hospital, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, drop the minimum fee to £2.50.
The trust declined the suggestion, saying it could not make changes to its current contract with the company CP Plus, which runs its car parks.
The issue was recently exacerbated further when the trust announced that it would be scrapping free parking for blue badge holders.
This means the disabled and people with chronic conditions will be hit with the steep charges too. The trust justified the move on the grounds that it makes a loss on its parking.
In the light of this, the Watford Observer requested to see the contract between the trust and CP Plus for car park management under the Freedom of Information Act.
The trust released the contract, but blacked-out all the figures, making it impossible to tell what kind of value it provides for the NHS, patients and taxpayers.
The trust used part of the act relating to commercial interest which states: “Information is exempt if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it).”
This contract has very real ramifications for people in Watford and beyond.
I recently spoke to a contact who had a family member at the hospital. She recalled hearing a husband in the bed next to them pleading with his spouse not to visit him every day due to the mounting expense.
However, for now, residents will have to continue paying fees without knowing the details about why they are so high.
All we do know is this contract appears to be benefiting neither trust nor the people visiting its hospitals. Those facts alone make a compelling argument for the details to be made public.
So the bridge over the pond is going to be built. In the past I have questioned the need for this trans-aqua walkway, which appears to have been construed by some in the town hall as all outright attack on the plan.
To be frank, I don’t have vociferous feelings either way.
But after all these months I’m no further forward in figuring out the logical reasoning behind the bridge.
I still harbour suspicions that it is a facile idea thrown up by the highly-paid consultants who designed The Parade revamp rather than a facility desperately needed by pedestrians roaming the town centre.
Yet this is all hypothetical. Maybe once it’s built we’ll discover it is an indispensible addition to The Parade that leaves us all wondering how we ever did without it.