Parking snub for war heroes

Derek Hall with his parking fee ticket outside of the University Hospital of Hartlepool
Derek Hall with his parking fee ticket outside of the University Hospital of Hartlepool

HEALTH bosses have been slammed for charging war heroes to park at hospitals – when disabled benefits claimants can claim the cash back.

Retired RAF Wing Commander, Dr Derek Hall, a regular outpatient at the University Hospital of Hartlepool, said: “The whole thing is absolutely disgraceful.”

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust sparked outrage last month when they announced they were to charge disabled badge holders to park at the University Hospital of Hartlepool and its North Tees site.

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Anger was eased when they revealed that those on benefits could claim back the cash.

But there was fury today after it was revealed hospital bosses decided that war pensioners were snubbed in the scheme and will have to pay parking charges in full.

The decision to charge disabled badge holders who can claim back cash is set by individual hospital trusts.

Under the move, which comes as the trust needs to save £40m over the next three years from its £260m budget, disabled drivers are now charged in line with others.

Blue badge holders who receive benefits including income-based jobseeker’s allowance, working tax credit or pension credit, can reclaim the cost of hospital travel, including parking fees.

But people who receive a war pension are not included.

Trust bosses defended their decision, saying people with disabilities “do not want to be treated differently to anyone else”.

But furious Dr Hall, 61, from Wingate, who is director of the National Gulf Veterans’ and Families’ Association and a sitting member of the House of Lords Committee dedicated to protecting ex-service personnel’s welfare, said: “If I didn’t have a disabled war pension I would receive income support but I get the equivalent through a different Government department.

“I have no objection to discounts being provided for people who don’t have a wage packet.

“As a war pensioner, I do object to being denied the same discount.

“They provide free parking to benefit claimants and charge the war-wounded service veteran.”

Dr Hall is regularly treated as an outpatient at the hospital’s cardiology, endocrinology, rheumatology and asthma clinics.

He is a veteran and consultant surgeon who served with the Royal Air Force medical branch from 1972 to 1997. He also hit out at an increase in charges, with the £1.80 minimum tariff having risen to £3.

The Mail reported last week that hospital parking charges raked in £1.46m in 2010-11.

A trust spokeswoman said unfortunately war pension recipients were not eligible for the refund.

She added: “Our charges would not apply to disabled drivers on income support, income-based jobseekers allowance, working tax credit or pension credits for example and parking is free on our hospital sites for all patients who are undergoing a course of treatment for cancer there.

“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.”

The trust spokeswoman added that in making decision over parking charges, the trust follows guidelines set out by the Department of Health, which currently had no information regarding war pensioners.

The Department of Health confirmed that parking charge decisions are taken by individual trusts.

A spokesman for the Veterans’ Agency, which issues war pensions, also added: “The decision on who claims for car parking would be up to the individual hospital.”

Veterans can find out what they are entitled to by calling the Veterans Agency on 0800 169 2277.