Hospital parking charges and wheelchairs: examples of why ‘customer service’ shouldn’t be a dirty word in the NHS

We learnt today learnt today that a third of hospital trusts have increased their car parking charges in the last year and that the average rise among this group was around 15%.

I have had cause to use my hospital a lot over the few months as my Dad is recovering from a stroke. Car parking is free for the first 30 minutes and then jumps to £2 for the first hour and then £3 for up to 3 hours. And so on. It’s quite a hike in price.

True, because my father has been in hospital longer than ten days we are entitled to free parking. We have a slip of paper which we present to the hospital receptionist who then stamps our car parking ticket which lifts the barrier to set us free. But if the receptionist is not at her desk or it is out of hours or the weekend (especially Sunday) this system can fall flat on its face.

From a consumer perspective it all seems a bit of a racket.  It costs less for me to park at the local nature reserve and walk my dog – £1 for four hours. – than to visit or take family to see my poor Dad.  Go to the local hospital and it can feel as if one’s ill-fortune is being preyed upon.

The words ‘consumer’ or ‘customer’ are often seen as a dirty word in public involvement circles, indeed in the NHS. It’s akin to admitting you like Kajagoogoo songs to the local chapter of the Hells Angels. But for me there are some purely transactional aspects of the way in which we interact with the NHS operates where some good old ‘customer service’ would be no bad thing.

Another brief, family example betrays the same lack of customer service that now seems pervasive across the system.

A wheelchair is due to be delivered to my Mum and Dad’s house next week in readiness for his return home. The delivery people called my Mum up to arrange delivery.  Because my Mum is going to visit my Dad in hospital every afternoon she asked if it could be delivered in the morning.  ‘Oh no, we can’t give you a time of day – not even morning of afternoon – it will be just be some time during the day: can you stay in?’  Er no, she explains, because she will be at the hospital.  For the love of God is it really that difficult to organise a delivery for the morning or afternoon?  I don’t think my Mum was expecting to know the precise hour and minute.

All credit to my mum. She stuck to her guns and they are now going to try to deliver the wheelchair on Monday morning.

They are doing us a big favour you know.



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