A COMBINATION of technology failings and an unexpected increase in demand have been blamed for the difficulties caused by the introduction of a new parking system at the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals.

The findings come from a “lessons learned" review by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) into how the new arrangements were implemented just before Christmas last year.

A five-month investigation into what went wrong concluded that technical issues with new number plate recognition and pay station equipment were the principal cause of lengthy queues and accusations of “chaos” from people visiting the two sites.

The report said that the “teething issues…were the responsibility of – and subsequently resolved by – Parking Eye”, the Chorley-based firm brought in to run the new system.

The company’s own internal review, which it shared with the trust, revealed that software issues – which Parking Eye says it had not experienced elsewhere – caused the pay kiosks to perform slowly. They were also unable to cope with the barcode on a 7-day ticket introduced exclusively for LTH.

Meanwhile, car park cameras had to be relocated, because the wireless signal on which they rely was interfered with by trees which had grown to obstruct their line of sight since an initial survey to position them was undertaken. This problem was particularly acute at Chorley Hospital.

However, the LTH review accepted that the trust should have considered “more fully the potential impact of the change” and also that it had failed to appreciate the increase in demand which the new system would bring.

The introduction of flat rate concessions vouchers for patients who had previously been able to park for free caused an extra 7,200 people to need to visit the pay stations in the months after the change. Under the old system, they would simply have driven away.

But the review found that the uptake in the number of people using the kiosks was also partially due to more people sticking to the rules, because of the threat of being caught on camera – rather than driving off without paying. Previously, there had been an opportunity for drivers to sneak out while barriers were raised or decide not to buy a ticket in those areas of the car park covered by pay and display machines.

The removal of the pay and display option – which had accounted for around half of the parking stays under the previous arrangement – also increased the number of visitors to the pay stations. Extra kiosks have since been installed at both hospitals and shelters introduced.

Card payments added to the overall delays because they take longer than paying by cash – and 60 percent of visitors have chosen the plastic option. Currently, just six percent of people have been persuaded to use the online Good2Go system, which automatically takes payments and removes the need to visit the pay kiosks at all.

The trust concluded that it should have had more practical support in place to help people having difficulties with the new system – the general office was closed at various points during the day and there was initially nobody from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service available at the Chorley site.

Appointment letters also gave out incorrect information about parking while the new system was being implemented, because many of them were generated long in advance of the changes.

An initial two-week grace period to allow visitors the chance to get used to the system ended up being extended for over four months and it was only on May 8 that LTH accepted that the system was reliable enough to authorise Parking Eye to start issuing penalties for parking breaches.