Tag Archives: Birmingham Post

Hospital car parking charge scandal

I was flicking through a copy of my local free newspaper, the Sandwell Chronicle, the other day, and one story had me re-reading to ensure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

Last year, the 3 hospitals in the Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust – Sandwell General, City Hospital and Rowley Regis Community Hospital – brought in more than £1.5 million in car parking charges for staff and visitors. Here is how the local daily Express and Star reported it.

Now, hospital car parking charging is a particular bugbear of mine. Having spent more time than I would have liked during the past couple of years visiting various hospitals in the Birmingham and Black Country area, I have come to resent these charges vehemently. My logic is thus; I am visiting my loved one – or rushing them to A&E, in some cases – why should I be charged upwards of £2.50 for the privilege?

I also think charging staff to pay for car parking, as some do, is a bit rich. How many other places of work charge for spaces? I certainly don’t where I work.

These hospitals are by no means the only – or worst – examples, just the ones in my local area. For instance, last year the Birmingham Post reported that University Hospital (nee Walsgrave) in Coventry made £1.9 million from its parking charges.

While I understand that maintaining a car park does cost – paying for security staff, CCTV, upkeep of the land and automatic barriers etc – I doubt that it is that much.

It’s the way the costs seem to keep spiralling that irks me as well. I remember when some hospitals first started charging back in the 1990s, and then it was usually a flat rate of 50p. I didn’t have a problem with that. But now, they seem to increase annually – Sandwell & West Birmingham’s charges are going up by 20% in April – and it does tot up quickly if a loved one is having an extended stay in hospital.

For those on benefits or a pension, these charges come as even more of a whammy. Even the 8-tokens-for-£10 offers for those coming in every day still take a fair chunk of an average pensioner’s weekly budget.

The charges smack of profiteering – especially at those hospitals that have outsourced car parking to private firms – and, as ever, the poor old consumer gets hit in the pocket.

What would I do? In an ideal world, make it free. Realistically, go back to the flat rate of 50p – surely enough to cover the costs of maintaining a car park.

I’d be interested to hear others’ opinions on this…

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Children’s social services: impressive despite circumstances

It’s official: Council-run children’s social services departments in England are performing well, in general.

Ofsted has published its 2009 children’s services ratings and revealed that 68% of the 152 councils are performing ‘excellently’ or ‘well’, while another 25% are ‘adequate’.

Only 9 councils – 6% – are judged to be ‘poor’, including Haringey, which neatly avoids another media storm over Baby P.

While the media, inevitably, has thus far focused on the poorly performing councils, it could be argued that it is surprising that more children’s services departments are not failing.

Take Birmingham, for example, one of the councils deemed ‘poor’, much to their chagrin. There, about a fifth of the 722 posts in children’s services were unfulfilled, and absenteeism ran at 25 days per person, according to a report in the Birmingham Post. After some quick calculations in the office on the back of a Post-it, we worked out that about a third of the workforce was missing. Those that were present were dealing with 800 child abuse cases a month, so it’s no wonder the department was at breaking point.

While measures are now in place to improve matters in Birmingham, I doubt that its situation is unique. Nationally, vacancy levels are running at 9.5% of frontline posts in children and families teams, with 9.6% annual turnover of employees, according to the interim report by the Social Work Task Force. Sickness levels are also high – an average of 12 days per social worker – which is 60% more than the national average, according to a recent report in The Independent.

Combine that with rising levels of referrals – the dual effects of Baby P and the recession – and you have to marvel that more children’s services departments aren’t failing and there aren’t more Baby P’s.

It also serves to make Ofsted’s findings look all the more impressive, especially as chief inspector Christine Gilbert claims these inspections were tougher than those in previous years.

It just shows what a good job the majority of social workers do under increasingly difficult circumstances, and should be cause for celebration.

While there is still much work to do to improve services – and the lot of the social worker – it needs to be recognised that a good job is being done in the vast majority of cases.

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