IN the wake of news that Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust had made widescale changes to car parking at all of its sites, an initial backlash from the public followed.

The trust, which operates 13 sites in the North-East including Hexham General and Haltwhistle War Memorial hospitals, has recently installed barriers at its car parks with payment on exit, with the cost of parking changed to complement the new system.

Parking for up to 24 hours will now cost people £6, a rise of 200 per cent in less than three years. Visitors will continue to have 40 minutes grace before the charges kick in, instead of the 20 minutes as originally stated.

However, not everyone was against the proposals which were implemented on January 1.

John Renwick, of Hedley-on-the-Hill, said: “I think the charges are quite fair. I’ve been here for two-and-a-half hours and it just charged £2.60.

“With the old system, it was easy to overpay as you didn’t know how long you would be and I think the new level of charge is fairly reasonable. Having to pay to use a hospital car park will always be a bone of contention, but it could be a lot worse.”

Margaret Roberts, of Hexham, agreed and said: “I think it’s fair enough. When you go to a hospital, I think you know you’re going to have to pay, but it’s a lot less than some of the Newcastle hospitals.”

The father of Sarah Greaves, of Ingoe, had been in Hexham hospital for two weeks, and she had been a regular visitor during that time.

But the money she forked out on parking was a small price to pay, she said.

“It isn’t ideal having to pay £4 a day, really,” she said. “On the other hand, my dad has had the most amazing care going and he is back home and got a great short-term care package.

“Forget about the parking charges; the care and aftercare he has received was incredible and it was worth every penny of the parking charge.”

Tamsin Beevor, of Hexham, was unaffected by the charges as she did not drive, but said she would like to see a scheme which allowed families on low income to claim back what they spend.

The charges did cause anger in some parts, though, with some arguing that the rises were too high.

Jordan Dodwell, of Hexham, said: “They are taking advantage of family members who have sick relatives in the hospital. They want to be ashamed of themselves.”

In a similar vein, Adrian Porter, of Prudhoe, said the £6 charge for stays longer than four hours was penalising people who were sick.

He said: “If you are there from four to 24 hours, that person must be visiting someone poorly or getting treatment themselves, you would have thought ?

“It’s a disgrace families have to pay that.”

The trust claimed the change in parking was to prevent people abusing the bays by parking up and going to work or shopping, for example.

It was also hoped the barriers and pay on exit option would make the car parks operate smoothly.

Les Morgan, the trusts’s interim director of estates and facilities, said: “Car parking charges at Northumbria Healthcare remain among the lowest in the NHS, and are used to cover the cost of maintaining/securing the hospital car parks. All additional revenue generated beyond this will be reinvested directly into patient care and developing local services.”