Most issues we write about in this column have two sides, even if one side is weaker than the other. There is always some balance to be made.
But one issue is as clear-cut as anything we have seen in many years: the problem of parking at Macclesfield Hospital and, soon, Congleton War Memorial.
When people can pay for a parking ticket and then be hounded for fines they allegedly owe, something is wrong.
And something is clearly wrong with the hospital’s ParkingEye system and East Cheshire NHS Trust — a public servant at the end of the day — should be ashamed of the stress it is putting people under. The situation is reprehensible.
It doesn’t really need much more saying about it, but two points need to be made (ignoring the debate over whether hospitals should be charging people to park in the first place).
The first point is that a hospital is not like a commercial enterprise that can charge people to park (though many commercial enterprises don’t charge customers) because people have no choice but to attend.
You can decide whether to shop at one supermarket or another based on its parking policy, and we know of examples of where it has happened.
But if your doctor sends you for tests or you’re having a baby or you get run over and rushed to A&E, you have no real choice where to go (particularly the latter).
If a private company had a monopoly and then enforced a punitive measure on people because of that monopoly, the authorities would take swift action, such as happens with dominant IT companies.
Second, people who attend hospital are, by definition, usually stressed.
If they’re not ill themselves, they’re either taking in a sick child or or visiting a sick relative. Being hounded over parking fees is the last thing they want or need. The mither is only adding to their stress.
Actually there are three things: if this parking system was in the private sector, it would work.
A private company could not afford to upset people in the way East Cheshire NHS Trust is doing.
As a result, similar systems in the private sector work. We don’t hear of supermarket ANPR systems regularly fining large numbers of people who have paid for a ticket, because any store that did that — unlike a public body — would lose customers and lose money.
But that’s what appears to be happening at Macclesfield. People are paying for tickets and then getting threatening letters trying to enforce a fine, saying they either haven’t paid or were in two places at once.
For example, local man Mike Muston received a £70 fine even though he held a valid parking ticket, and is now so worried about getting another ticket he’s thinking of going on the bus, to hospital, with a bad leg.
Is this what health chiefs want? To force sick people to travel on the bus and walk to hospital? (Maybe it is: the car park is always full).
We’ve heard of another case where a driver drove to a different part of the car park to pick up a frail relative and received a fine — because he’d left the car park and driven back on.
Another person, visiting hospital because of a sick child, is being taken to court by ParkingEye, despite having a valid ticket at the time.
And yet another victim, Tony Carroll, has found out that East Cheshire NHS Trust has received dozens of complaints about ParkingEye. This, just to repeat, is a public body that is supposed to be looking after the health of taxpayers, not adding to the stress in their lives.
As said at the start of this column, this a rare case where there is only one side to the argument.
It’s clear something is going badly wrong with the parking system at Macclesfield Hospital.
It’s clear East Cheshire NHS Trust is treating patients and their families badly.
It’s clear that the trust’s agent threatening people with legal action when they have abided by the law is wrong.
The trust has no defence whatsoever, and needs to sort this problem out immediately.