HOSPITAL bosses will introduce parking charges for disabled drivers in the new year as they look to save £40m.
From January 1, disabled drivers will have to pay to park at the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.
Bosses at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust are bringing in the charges, which will bring disabled drivers in line with other motorists.
It comes as the trust needs to save £40m over the next three years from its £260m budget.
They argue that 31 other NHS organisations throughout the country have recently brought in charges.
The current charges for parking at the University Hospital of North Tees and the University Hospital of Hartlepool are:
First 15 minutes – free;
0 – 2 hours – £3;
2 – 4 hours – £3.30;
Over 4 hours – £4.
Chief executive Alan Foster said: “We have £40m to save and naturally we want to preserve front line services and jobs as far as possible.
“We were aware that charges for disabled drivers are becoming more commonplace and we know that 31 other NHS organisations throughout the country are charging in this way.
“Our charges would not apply to disabled drivers on income support or pension credits for example and NHS parking is free for all patients with cancer.
“People with disabilities do not want to be treated differently to anyone else. The important thing is that they can park close to our hospital buildings and we have recently made improvements to disabled parking to ensure it is accessible.
“With savings requirements of this magnitude we are faced with stark choices and, given the situation, we felt patients would rather know their services were being preserved than jobs in front line services were threatened.”
There are season tickets for people who need to visit either of the hospitals regularly.
It costs £15 for a weekly unlimited visit pass and £25 for a monthly pass.
Hospital chiefs say they do not expect anyone to spend more than £25 on car parking.
Anyone after more information about the changes should ask at the service desk near the main concourse of the hospitals or pick up a ticket near the blue machine.
As part of the £40m Challenge every money-saving possibility will be explored but the Trust admits that more than 70 per cent of its budget goes on staff wages.
It hopes to make the savings by transforming services, reducing beds, reducing energy bills, building the new hospital and bringing in more income.
Savings worth £16.5m will be made this year by changing the procurement process and making management staff cuts, as previously reported.