John McLellan: Fix parking chaos at hospital

The Royal Infirmary's busy accident and emergency department. Picture: Greg Macvean

The Royal Infirmary's busy accident and emergency department. Picture: Greg Macvean

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It’s only when you are a guest of a large hospital like the Royal Infirmary that you fully appreciate the scale and needs of such a massive, bustling community which is constantly on the move.

And you also appreciate how much a prisoner you are of the facilities, which is why the outrage was entirely justified when it emerged WH Smith was charging more for certain goods in its hospital stores compared to its shops in nearby malls.

Parking charges are set to rise. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Parking charges are set to rise. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

So it’s no wonder people at the ERI are miffed that the Royal Bank of Scotland has removed its cashpoint, which a bank spokesman said would be replaced eventually and explained it away as being part of the “wider redevelopment at the hospital”.

It seems like a lame excuse, given there is no redevelopment in the main concourse that I could see when I was there this week.

But in the swanky shopping mall at the heart of Fred Goodwin’s Gogarburn palace, RBS employees want for nothing and there is a line of ATMs so no-one is inconvenienced. Known by staff as “The Street”, it throngs at lunchtime and with flowers and chocolates on sale male employees have no need to dash over to the Gyle when they’ve forgotten their anniversary.

The Street goes quiet when staff return to their desks, but at the ERI the flow of people is constant from lunchtime onwards, with open visiting starting at 2pm.

RBS would not consider leaving its HQ staff without an ATM, and there is no reason why patients and staff at the ERI should be any different.

One other difference between Gogarburn and Little France, which is not part of ongoing redevelopment, is traffic chaos. With plenty of parking and a tram stop across the bridge, access to RBS HQ is straightforward. Sure, there might be a bit of a queue at rush hour but it’s hardly life or death.

At the Royal Infirmary for many people that’s far from the case, yet every day chaos doesn’t begin to describe what goes on. Used to hearing from flustered patients, staff can only shrug their shoulders and smile weakly.

Every day, as visiting coincides with afternoon out-patient appointments, the roads into the car parks are blocked with stationary traffic waiting for spaces to be freed. It can take over half-an-hour from arrival at the hospital just to make it to the main entrance, with negotiation of the labyrinth to the relevant ward or department still to come.

Worse, cars are banned from the road which connects the infirmary with Greendykes, a camera-policed trap into which dopey drivers like me trying to find a way round to the car park behind the Simpson are easily led.

OK so there are regular bus services, but the tens of thousands of Edinburgh patients and visitors who don’t live on the routes can expect to spend an hour getting there.

And it’s going to get worse. The new Sick Kids, now under construction, will open in 2017 and will be joined by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) from the Royal Edinburgh. It also looks like it will absorb services from the 12-bed children’s unit at St John’s in Livingston.

All this makes eminent clinical sense, but what arrangements are being made for the traffic inevitably generated by the influx of staff and patients? Not much. On top of this, the clinical neurosciences department is also being relocated from the 
Western General.

True, there is very little on-site parking at the Sick Kids’ current Sciennes site, but the streets immediately nearby all have metered parking and spaces are not hard to come by.

At Little France, the nearby streets all have double yellow lines until Moredun, a fair walk away and where residents are already fed up with hospital overspill.

And what happens if the so-far stubbornly vacant land earmarked for the bio-business park all around the hospital suddenly becomes the magnet for booming businesses city politicians have been promising for years? Going to hospital as a patient is a stressful time, but it’s nothing compared to going as the parent of a seriously-ill child and making the experience any more harrowing because of a car-limitation policy is verging on the heartless.

So as far as the Royal Infirmary is concerned, to hell with encouraging public transport use; it’s not George Street and no-one goes there for fun, so there should be enough parking to ensure patients and visitors can make their appointments on time without undue stress. The solution is simple: turn one of the existing car parks into a multi-storey. If it’s good enough for Edinburgh Airport it should be good enough for one of Europe’s biggest hospitals.

NHS Lothian and the city council have until 2017 to make sure that what is already chaos doesn’t turn into bedlam. However appropriate the name might be.

BARGAINING POWER

The hike in Edinburgh parking charges was as inevitable as nightfall as the city council struggles to balance its books. The only question is by how much.

The mooted one-third increase sounds very much like a bargaining position which will allow it not only to demonstrate how much it pays attention to inevitable protests but to push through the rise it was planning all along.

So don’t be surprised if you’re paying 25 per cent more to park this time next year. And don’t forget to be grateful.

Concerned candidates

Voices unheard publicly in the furore surrounding the business practices of Edinburgh West MP Michelle Thomson are those of the SNP candidates who missed out on the chance to fight the seat, ex-footballer Michael Stewart amongst them. I suspect they have plenty to say in private and it won’t be the same as the cyber-nuts who argue that all Thomson has done is buy and sell a few cheap houses.

Who’s being protectd by this change to anonymity rules?

A CHANGE in the law affecting what you read in this newspaper quietly slipped through the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, just one small clause but with significant implications for the way justice is seen to be done.

It is all the more remarkable because the change was made without any consultation with broadcasters, publishers and journalists.

As of last month, the age at which a defendant in a criminal court case could be identified was raised from 16 to 18, bringing the rules in line with Children’s Hearings. It means that a 17-year-old who is convicted of a serious offence now has their anonymity protected, and so this week the public was prevented from learning the identity of the privately-educated thug who left a young man permanently scarred by smashing a bottle into his face.

This brute is on the books of a top football club, so it’s possible you might be cheering on a starlet whose future is a lot brighter than that of the boy he disfigured.

Nor are we permitted to know who the 17-year-old was who stabbed a man to within millimetres of his heart in an attempt to steal his car.

There is every chance both these characters will be at liberty next May when, thanks to another change in the law passed by the same politicians in the Scottish Parliament, they will be entitled to vote.

So in modern Scotland it seems that at 16 you are old enough to have a say in the governance of the country, but not old enough to face up to full responsibility for your actions.