A fair amount of scepticism often greets these exercises when organisations plan a change and ask people for their views.
And so it was when the Western Health Trust consulted on their plans for paid car parking at the new South West Acute Hospital. For a start, it was a targeted exercise so it was not thrown open to the public to give their views but a specific number of groups and individuals. 29 responses were received from individuals and larger organisations like Trade Unions. None of the responding Trade Unions agreed to the proposal to charge for parking for 236 out of the 788 spaces.
In the main, those consulted were against the idea of levying a charge of 70p an hour. They said it was a rural site so there was not the justification for charging that there would be on an urban site. They felt charging would disproportionately impact on the rural population. They felt 70p was too expensive -- 40p is the going rate in town car parks.
The Trust came back with mitigations against concerns. With the hospital travel cost scheme, those on benefits and low incomes can reclaim car park costs. Free spaces are available and certain groups of patients will get their tickets validated so there will be no charge. A shuttle bus service is to be implemented between Enniskillen and the hospital so that people won't have to take their cars to the hospital at all.
The Trust's own Equality and Human Rights Screening found that there would be a potentially adverse impact on what are known as the S75 groups, more commonly known as the aged, disabled and people with dependants.
However, the decision was made to charge for 30 per cent of the parking at the new hospital for spaces beside the main entrance and adjacent to the A&E emergency department.
But just as those consulted may feel their thoughts were not acted on, there comes a suggestion that people power has effected some sort of change.
The original proposal was that the 49 spaces at A&E would be subject to a escalated charging structure with a sharp increase to the cost once a car had been parked there for more than four hours. There was "the strongest opposition" to this during the targeted exercise to garner people's views. The Trust's management team considered this and the proposal that then came to the Board yesterday was that the charging structure should be a flat rate of 70p per hour, with no escalated charging at A&E.
A victory of sorts for the people? Perhaps.
But it was made clear that if lots of 70 pences from patients and relatives do not pay for the provision of car parking at the hospital, some other budget will have to. The thousands of pounds was going to have to come from somewhere. And even then it does not fully cover the costs.