PATIENTS and visitors who rush into Hinchingbrooke Hospital without buying a car park ticket no longer face swingeing penalties.

PATIENTS and visitors who rush into Hinchingbrooke Hospital without buying a car park ticket no longer face swingeing penalties.

The Huntingdon hospital's new operators, Circle, which took over the management in February, have scrapped the £40 instant penalties levied by the previous car park operators under their contract with the NHS.

Circle has also capped charges at £2.50 for hospital users, though higher daily charges apply to deter commuters using the hospital car park, which will be patrolled, as a cheap, if inconvenient, alternative to £5.50 in the station car park.

Previously, anyone who parked for longer than 40 minutes without a ticket would be fined £40, which doubled to £80 after seven days, and racked up more with every reminder letter received, Circle said.

“Feedback shows this caused considerable stress and anxiety for visitors, particularly people attending A&E or maternity labour wards at short notice,” a spokesman added. “The same fines were also applied for minor offences such as parking slightly out of bay.

“From Monday this week, these fines have been scrapped. Anyone who is found to have parked without a ticket will simply be asked to pay the standard daily rate of £2.50.

“If people are rushing in and don't buy a ticket, they will just be asked to pay when they leave,” she added.

The daily charging regime for visitors has also been overhauled. Previously, visitors had to pay extra for each hour they spent at Hinchingbrooke.

The Hunts Post asked readers for feedback on what Circle should change at Hinchingbrooke. Many respondents commented that this parking system was unfair.

“Unlike shopping centres or entertainment venues that operate similar charging systems, the amount of time hospital visitors stay is often out of their control. From this week, the daily fare will be capped at £2.50 for all visitors, no matter how long they spend seeing or accompanying their loved ones,” the spokesman said. “Extra charges will apply for non-visitors to prevent commuters taking advantage of the new system.”

This week's changes are an “immediate fix to the injustices” ahead of more radical plans that could include increasing the availability of parking at the hospital site, as revealed by The Hunts Post in February.

Future plans also include payment on exit rather than entry, and payment by card and text-message.

Circle's property director, Mark Cammies, who lives close to the hospital and is co-ordinating the improvement programme at Hinchingbrooke, said: “When The Hunts Post asked the people of Huntingdon what our priorities should be, the answer on parking was clear: they want us to cut the stress and charge them less.

“This plan is a start, and we're determined to go further and faster in taking the anxiety and unfair costs out of hospital parking in the months and years ahead.”rther and faster in taking the anxiety and unfair costs out of hospital parking in the months and years ahead.”