What’s going on in healthcare parking right now?
What’s going on in healthcare parking right now?

Sarah Greenslade, public affairs and communications officer at the British Parking Association looks at some of the problems and innovations in healthcare parking

The challenges of hospital parking are diverse, not least because every organisation’s situation is unique; the proximity to a town or city centre, access to public transport and whether it is managed internally or by a parking operator. I have yet to come across a trust that has ample parking and provides a parking experience without challenges.      

As Kerry Wheat, group head of security and car parking at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and the BPA Healthcare chair, sees it: “We are always going to have the challenge of meeting demand and lack of parking capacity. If I had a magic wand to build an inflatable multi-storey car park, that would be great! Parking is provided for our patients primarily, but there is a greater demand now to support our staff post-Covid. Post-Covid, the pressures on parking spaces have increased. Patients and visitor numbers are like pre-Covid levels and demand for staff parking has increased.”      

As Wheat sees it, there are four key challenges – recovering from the reduced income over Covid, the financial impact of costs rising to maintain parking services, implementing free parking concessions and re-educating staff to get back to using alternative transport where possible, to ease pressure on parking spaces and reduce emissions. Wheat reflects that: “Over the last 12 months, the cultural shift has been hard. We’ve seen a hesitancy from staff to consider alternative ways of getting to work and in some cases choosing not to return to using alternative transport or walking.” 

However, Wheat acknowledges: “That with the increased applications for staff disabled parking permits, re-educating staff needs, at the same time, to recognise staff anxiety and mental health.”      

The challenge of putting through business cases for even simple things like line marking or reallocation of spaces to a disabled bay are crucial to ensure the service is maintained. It is hard to quantify patient experience other than through complaints. If patients have driven around for 45 minutes before a consultation, this impacts on the way they interact with reception and parking staff and even their treatment. This needs to be taken into account. Hospitals are trying to make themselves more accessible to individuals whether for mobility or other hidden disability reasons, yet estates and property teams need to consider what parking is lost at their entrances due to new buildings taking precious parking space. “Car parks need to be future proofed,” says Wheat. The NHS England New Hospital Programme Team are now developing new technical guidance on car parking standards which will help address some of these challenges.

What’s new? The National Parking Platform

Developments in technology, data management and software are fundamental to improving the parking experience and reliant on all these is the National Parking Platform which the government formally announced in its recent ‘Plan for Drivers’. It will revolutionise parking services including hospital parking in future. So far it’s already working well across some local authorities, with drivers able to plan their journey, check tariffs and availability, and pay using their preferred method including parking apps, card or cash.

Solar car parks

Eastbourne District General Hospital is the first trust to transform its car park by installing 2,000 solar canopies to create renewable energy. This was achieved through the government funded Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme. We hope to see more trusts take up this opportunity to reduce energy costs, generate income potentially, with the added benefits of providing shelter and lighting for car park users.

New parking accreditation

In October, the Disabled Motoring UK and the British Parking Association launched a pioneering accreditation for accessible and inclusive parking and EV charging called Park Access. Car parks that pass the criteria would for everyone using them, regardless of their accessibility needs, be able to identify car parks and facilities, such as EV chargepoints, that they can use with ease, all of which are added to the Park Mark car park finder. In total, there are currently 40 trusts that have 300 Park Mark awarded car parks, that are on the car park finder.

Parking management central to achieving net zero

Parking management is an important tool to achieve other aims including net zero. Any organisation not including parking management in their net zero plans will find it difficult to make real gains at pace, which is what is needed right now. So NHS England’s Net Zero travel and transport strategy launched this October is very welcome, as it sets two clear targets that rely on managing parking and sustainable travel. The first one is that by 2026, all NHS organisations will have sustainable travel strategies in place and incorporated these into their Green Plans; and secondly, that in 10 years’ time, the NHS aims to cut staff commuting emissions by 50 per cent, through increased uptake of active travel, public and shared transport and zero emission vehicles. These are achievable when good parking management policies and systems prioritise those that need to park because they are not able to take up the alternative forms of transport on offer. It sounds easy put like this, but Andrew Bradley, sustainable travel lead, at NHS England’s, Net Zero Travel & Transport team points out: “This needs many departments to work together; staff management, land use, clinical [needs] and finance; and led at board level by someone who has ownership and can enthuse staff.”

Free parking?
With a general election fast approaching, we are mindful that the last Labour Party manifesto included making hospital parking free. In reality of course, no parking is provided free, especially when the aim is to provide a seamless parking experience. Politicians of all colours should take heed of the Northern Ireland Department of Health consultation out now which makes the case for a U-turn on making hospital parking free from May 2024. It estimates that providing and maintaining car parking services costs the health service in the region of £10 million annually, and at the same time generates funds for free off-site staff parking, and park & ride schemes.

I got quite excited when one of the speakers at this year’s National Air Quality Conference talked about the important role parking policy has in improving air quality to a room full of air quality specialists. In all parking settings this includes setting the appropriate parking tariffs, and in many cases providing free concessions and providing alternative travel.      

Not charging for parking has consequences.      

  • The financial cost of parking provision comes out of healthcare budgets which impacts patient care.     
  • It subsidises car owners but not staff who use public transport, bike or walk.     
  •  It reduces income to invest in these alternative travel schemes and increases demand on parking spaces resulting in cars circling and stress from being late for shifts/clinical appointments/visiting hours.     
  •  It also increases emissions, incentivising car usage, undermining NHS England’s net zero targets.      

For anyone that might be reading this article thinking my job does not have anything to do with parking I hope that if you have got this far you are having a rethink, because to get parking right it takes cross-team working especially in large organisations like the NHS. As Bradley aptly puts it “the rewards of getting it [parking policy and sustainable transport provision] right go far beyond achieving net zero.”