PARKING wardens will don portable CCTV cameras in Lothian hospitals following a spike in attacks by drivers.
One incident saw an attendant struck by a visitor’s walking stick, while another was nearly mown down by an irate driver.
There were 81 incidents of verbal abuse, dangerous driving, threatening behaviour and assault recorded in 2013-14 – with that figure rising to 141 over the last year.
The gadgets – which are around the size of a name badge – were trialled successfully in February 2014 at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, and the 25 new cameras will now be rolled out at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, St John’s and the Western General Hospital from Monday.
The cameras will be turned on when an attendant feels threatened and the footage can be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
Alan Boyter, director of human resources and organisational development at NHS Lothian, said: “Our car parking staff are performing a vital function by ensuring patients, visitors and staff can use our sites safely and receive the care they require.
“Any abusive behaviour towards NHS staff is completely unacceptable and we will do everything we can to protect our employees who are only doing their jobs as best they can and for the benefit of all.”
He added: “Some people seem to think that because no-one else is around to witness their unacceptable behaviour that they will get away with it. That will no longer be the case.”
The move has been supported by union officials, who said parking was an “emotive subject” as a shortage of spaces and high costs at the ERI could be stressful to visitors.
Tom Waterson, Lothian branch chair for Unison, said: “When people are visiting relatives then they can be quite stressed, especially when they find out they have to pay, though this is not an excuse.
“Obviously we are supportive of anything which prevents our staff from being verbally or physically abused.”
These cameras may act as a deterrent but they will not address the root cause of why staff are being attacked, warned Patrick Troy, chief executive of the British Parking Association.
He said: “There needs to be more thought on tackling the underlying issues that give rise to assaults, such as lack of parking provision or inconsiderate parking.”
Concerns about heightened surveillance were also raised by Alex Johnstone MSP, Scottish Conservative transport spokesman. He said: “It’s important for our medical staff to feel safe, but car park staff wearing CCTV cameras does seem a little over the top and an invasion of privacy.”
The plans follow announcements last month that ScotRail staff at Waverley would wear cameras as part of an 11-week trial to crack down on antisocial behaviour.
The technology has also been used by litter wardens and police officers.