Thursday, 17 June 2010

FIFA World Cup 2010 - Accessibility

World Cup fever is definitely upon us! From the horrendous noise of the Vuvuzelas to the expectations for the England team, we have all been caught up in the spectacle of South Africa.

As a keen football supporter - a season ticket for Fulham FC - and a member of the FA London Advisory Group, I am passionate about making football inclusive for all. It is therefore disappointing to note that The South African Disability Alliance Group has stated that thousands of disabled people will not experience the 2010 FIFA World Cup live due to a lack of seats.

All 10 World Cup stadiums were jointly meant to have over 2800 seats allocated specifically for wheelchair spectators, but only just over a 1000 seats have been made available. The Cape Town Stadium was meant to have 340 seats for disabled people but will only have 110. Phillip Thompson, spokesman for The South African Disability Alliance Group has said there had been minimal effort to increase access for the disabled - “There are serious deficiencies in the various stadiums. There has been no undertaking from any of the stadiums to actually meet these adjusted figures. In Soccer City where we require 435 seats, it will be impossible to achieve 297," says Thompson.

I am afraid that FIFA must accept some of the blame for this unacceptable situation - they should have been monitoring the position and taking action to ensure that the promises of accessibility were met by South Africa. It is hoped that should England be successful in its bid for the 2018 World Cup, more will be done to be truly inclusive.

Friday, 11 June 2010

NHS Car Parking Charges

Having recently spent some time in my local hospital, I was shocked to see the recent findings by Which and the excessive charges made for use of hospital car parks. For patients a stay in hospital is fraught but it would now appear that family and friends wishing to visit are also subjected to stress due to the charges being applied across England and the unfair economic strain placed on long-term patients is unjust. Research into these charges have previously shown that parking made hospital visits more stressful for 49% of people.

My local NHS Trust, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust, clamped a staggering 1,671 cars and made an unbelievable £1,851,271 profit from its car park in just one year! These figures placed it in the top four biggest offenders for clamping, fining, charging and complaint generators according to research by Which.

The Which research rated hospital car parks according their capacity, convenience of payment methods, frequency and type of penalties, charging structure and profits, and communication with patients.

From their research, Which were also able to identify that Leeds General Infirmary issued 10,330 fines generating £142,000 from April 2008 to April 2009 and Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS trust has the highest minimum charge at £4 for two hours of parking (a tad expensive if your appointment only lasts half an hour).

The Trusts have all stated that they do not make a profit on car parking, but aim to cover the costs of providing and running these facilities including security and CCTV. They point out that without these charges the car parks would have to be subsidised by their patient-care budget. They also state that a number of groups are exempt from paying parking charges. These include people receiving cancer treatment, people with a family member who is critically ill, as well as parents of children who are staying overnight in hospital. In addition, drivers with disabled parking badges are exempt from paying charges, as are volunteers for the Trusts.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Which chief executive, said: "Visiting hospital is stressful enough without having to worry about being clamped or getting a ticket. Now we know which hospitals are scoring badly, they must take action and improve their parking services."

It is also worth noting that currently very few hospitals in the devolution governments i.e. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland apply these charges. Taking into account that prescription charges have been abolished in both Northern Ireland and Wales and cut to just £3 in Scotland, it would seem that within the UK we now have a two tier health service with England being placed firmly at the bottom. In such a vital service, can we afford to allow such segregation to take place?

It is a sorry state of affairs when you now have to consider the cost of a visit to your local hospital! All charges for use of NHS services and medication should be standard with no one area bearing the brunt of the costs. We must all insist that a just and fair system is rolled out across the UK to ensure that undue stress and worry do not become entangled with medical treatment.