Disabled charities have hit out at the NHS’s decision to take away free parking for blue-badge holders at St Albans City Hospital.

The West Herts NHS Hospital Trust announced yesterday (Thursday) that badge holders will have to pay the same parking charges as other visitors from April.

Barbara Gibson, chairman of the St Albans Association for the disabled, said: "People with blue badges are normally elderly or people with long term and serious health problems.

"They are often the ones who have to go to hospital most often.

"I think this is a gross imposition for them, particularly in view of the high car parking charges.

"The charges are outrageous for anyone at the hospital.

"Transport to the hospital isn’t that easy anyway. We are inundated with people who need volunteer drivers."

Currently the cheapest parking ticket at the hospital is £4 for three hours, which drivers have to buy no matter how short their visit. After that motorists have to pay £6 for five hours or £12 to park all day.

Trixie Harrison, circles of support coordinator at ReachOut Plus, a charity that provides opportunities for young people living with disabilities, has described the scheme as unethical.

She said: "People who have disabilities and mobility needs face many disadvantages in general everyday life. From not being able to access buildings which do not have reasonable adjustments to being limited in which busses will allow them to enter if they have a wheel chair.

"Receiving free accessible parking with their blue badge goes a small way to close the gap that they face daily and makes access to buildings less limited to their individual needs.

"Taking away free parking will have a large impact in terms of actually allowing people to access the hospital in general.

"Finding cheaper parking further away from the hospital may not be an option for blue-badge holders and may put many badge holders at extra risk if they have to walk long distances.

"In many cases this is adding to a financial burden, it is not creating an equal parking system if you are already at a disadvantage due to benefits cuts.

"Just because other trusts are doing something does not mean that West Herts should have to follow them.

"It appears to be just about saving money and not about the people who need a service or a free space.

"If the person already has a diagnosed mobility need it is just plain unethical to make a person walk any further than they need to, especially in a hospital car park.

"If you are parking at a hospital you are usually there for yourself or to visit a loved one.

"Finding a parking space and paying for parking is stressful enough if you do not have or need a blue-badge.

"Keeping the current hospital parking system will support the ethics behind giving someone a blue-badge in the first place and continue to allow people to be as independent as possible whether they have additional needs or not."