New technology planned to tackle hospital parking problems

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology is being planned to monitor and limit the number of vehicles that can...

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology is being planned to monitor and limit the number of vehicles that can gain parking access at some of the region’s hospitals. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

A new plan proposes the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology to monitor and limit the number of vehicles that can gain parking access to the region’s three main hospitals.

North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust (NWAFT), the body responsible has put forward a proposal to tackle the problem in its Green Travel Plan.

The ANPR screening will be used to ensure that only the approved staff cars at Peterborough City, Hinchingbrooke and Stamford and Rutland hospitals are parking at those sites.

Members of the public will still use the on-site payment machines, as before.

In the past, staff parking facilities have been abused with some people parking there when they shouldn’t.

The provision for parking, or rather the lack of it has been an issue, particularly at Peterborough City Hospital (PCH), almost since it opened in 2010.

Addressing members of Peterborough City Council’s health scrutiny committee at their online meeting this week, Dr Kanchan Rege, deputy chief executive officer at NAWFT said: “Parking at our regional hospitals has long been recognised as a problem that causes difficulties for staff, visiting relatives and the movement of patients.

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“Staff in particular complain of frustration at getting to work at change-over times, and for patients trying to get to appointments which can be time-critical.

“The previous Travel Plan for PCH and Stamford and Rutland Hospital was prepared in February 2016, prior to the merging of Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust and Peterborough and Stamford NHS Foundation Trust to form North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust in April 2017.

“Given the merger of the Trusts, the Travel Plan required a review and update to incorporate the additional site and to update baseline data.

“The Trust commissioned WS Atkins to prepare an updated Green Travel Plan and Car Parking Management Plan for the three hospital sites.

“These reports were prepared having reviewed the current and future challenges and identified clear actions that needed to be addressed in order to better manage the car parking on each hospital site.

“The car parking issues being experienced on our hospital sites were: insufficient patient parking spaces to meet requirements of current patient and visiting activity; insufficient staff parking spaces to meet requirements of working arrangements during peak hours of 8am-4pm; different car parking management arrangements on each of our three hospital sites.

“In addition, patients were being negatively impacted through missing appointment times due to lack of car parking or ease of access to our car parking facilities.

“In March 2020, as part of the Trust’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, non-clinical projects were reviewed in order to maximise resources and refocus staff time on patient-facing activities; enable non-patient facing staff to work at home, isolate or shield as necessary.

“As a result, work to progress the Green Travel Plan and Car Parking Management Plan was paused for a six-month period. In that time the Trust also made parking free for patients, staff and any visitors.

“Parking charges were reinstated in September 2020 for patients and visitors; but the Trust has committed to keeping parking free for staff in this financial year until the end of March 2021.

“The Trust is now working on the following actions: the appointment of a dedicated project manager to lead the Green Travel Plan and Car Parking Management Plan; the procurement of a Car Parking Management Company that will use ANPR technology that will monitor and limit the number of vehicles that can gain access to the sites; to undertake a consultation exercise for all car park users to develop an agreed approach for charging; to resume discussions with Stagecoach bus company; to resume discussions with local authority regarding an additional entry/exit point to serve the PCH site, and to finalise Trust Agile Working Policy.

“We shall also be installing electronic charging points on all Trust sites by 31 March 2021, and revising the Trust car lease scheme for staff by restricting access to vehicles with higher emissions.”

Councillor Nick Sandford said: “Having had quite a lot of experience with Green Travel Plans in the past I’m aware that a lot of effort goes into preparing them, but then they tend to get plonked on the shelf and not a lot happens.

“The Green Travel Plan of February 2016 that you mention in the report presumably arrived at a number of targets, actions, conclusions and recommendations.

“But nowhere in the report can I find any list of what these were and I would very much like to know about those first, before committing ourselves to a new plan.”

Dr Rege replied: “The plan of 2016 never reached fruition – it remained as a plan but wasn’t enacted because we would’ve had to have quite difficult conversations with people about whether they lived a certain distance away from the hospital, and then our attention was diverted to the merger.”

The NWAFT Green Travel Plan will tailor the number of permits more appropriately to the number of spaces available, instead of allocating a permit to anybody who applies for one.

Cllr June Bull said: “The report shows that you are looking at the current patient and staff parking activity.

“But, we all know that the capacity for patients at PCH is nowhere near the combined bed capacity that we had at Peterborough District Hospital and the Edith Cavell Hospital. I’m curious to know why you’re not looking at future-proofing the travel and car parking plans?”

Dr Rede answered: “We are looking to future-proof our plans.

“The way we’re doing this is by reducing the need for patient-doctor face-to-face visits and increasing the number of telephone conversations between the two, with at least a third of our appointments now being virtual.

“That will have an enormous effect on reducing the number of travel movements necessary.

“Equally, with the staff parking, because our clinicians now have remote-access, with video-conferencing appointments to see their patients, they can work from home where possible, again reducing enormously the number of travel movements into and out of the hospitals parking facilities.”

Cllr Chris Burbage asked: “Have you given consideration in your discussions with Stagecoach for an arterial bus route that encompasses all the parkways of Peterborough, picking up at all the various townships of Peterborough and then setting down again at Bretton and the PCH site?”

Dr Rede replied: “We are in the process of resuming our discussions with Stagecoach and at this point nothing is ‘off the table’, and they are good suggestions that we will certainly take onboard.”

Next steps are for NAWFT have been confirmed, such as appointing a car park manager and informing staff of the desire for them to adopt other forms of transport, such as taking a bus or cycling to work.

It will also link in with Peterborough City Council to look at the possibility of an additional exit and entrance at the PCH site, while addressing the issues of residents’ parking.