Friday, 18 July 2014

Ashford and St. Peter's NHS Foundation Trust hammering the disabled.

On Thursday afternoon I headed to The Hythe Community Centre in Egham for a public consultation by  Ashford and St. Peter’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust about its decision to charge disabled badge holders for parking at the hospitals.

The meeting only happened because  Caroline Williams had organised a Twitter petition to oppose this – in a very short time gaining 500 + signatures.

Holding the meeting in working hours prevented many from attending including Caroline herself but many disabled people, including some prominent activists, managed to attend as you can see;


I counted 47 before the meeting began.

While the Trust called the meeting a ‘consultation’ they eventually admitted that the consultation had actually happened already and that the decision had already been taken at the previous board meeting.

Here’s the Chair Aileen McLeish and Simon Martin the Director of Finance;

The consultation consisted of talking to the specially picked ‘patients panel’, the hopeless governors and the disability access group.

We were told that while there were disagreements all three groups had supported the decision but then two members of the disability access group got up and explained that all their representatives had opposed this proposal.

This is Valerie Bartlett the deputy chief executive;

My question got an admission from the director of finance that the estimated income made from charging disabled people and their carers for parking will be £105,000 per year – a sum that could have been saved by cancelling the hospital’s spring ‘fact finding’ mission to America to observe how private medical care works, at a cost of £128,000 or £10,666 per person.

Here's an alternative; Andrew Liles the Chief Executive didn't bother to attend – perhaps he was preparing for his new job as a consultant for a private medical group. His current salary is £188,000 before benefits are included – there’s a potential saving for a start.

Borough councillors for the area attended, one pointing out that it is always the disabled who end up paying while other members of the audience explained how all disabled groups present opposed this decision.
There were plenty of questions from the floor and no one was prepared to be patronised either;

The Director of Finance confirmed to me that parking revenue is currently £1.4 million with a further £350,000 paid by staff who are understandably very angry that they are forced to pay to park at their own workplaces.

One member of the disability advisory group explained how he was “disappointed, annoyed, upset but not surprised” by the decision.

The depth of anger was remarkable and only inflamed when governors for Woking and Hounslow stated that they had voted for the charges – unelected ‘representatives’ speaking for no one but themselves.

Certainly, Hounslow, Brentford and Feltham people would have put their ‘representative’ in his place if he’d spoken to them about his decision to support this charge.

When the chair told us that our views would be put to the board at its next meeting and that the decision could be reversed I demanded that it be put to a vote of the meeting to ensure that everyone was clear how we all felt; everyone except the unelected governor for Hounslow voted against the charges.

We won’t be giving up on this one any time soon – Disabled badge holders are the most vunerable and most frequent users of the hospitals.

People on benefits are unaware that they can get refunds because there is no publicity to tell people about this but in any event, members of the audience made it clear that many people not on benefits suffer real hardship paying the parking fees.

The financial pressures of attending hospital as a patient or a visitor are clearly alien to managers whose large salaries put them in another world.

At the heart of all this is a determination by disabled people that there is a principle here – no tax on patients.

Equally determined , the hospital management want this charge to take away the last group who get free parking.

Next stop? More charges, more privatisation.

Keep your eyes on this space, the fight continues!

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)
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