Discussions involving the public, NHS Highland and politicians from all sides are being called for to put an end to Raigmore Hospital’s parking nightmare.
The call comes from Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain who has launched his own Raigmore Parking Campaign to gather ideas about how to tackle the longstanding problem.
For years now staff and members of the public have complained about the difficulty of getting parked at Raigmore, with anecdotal evidence suggesting it is being misused as an unofficial park and ride by city centre shoppers and even by those looking for somewhere to leave their car when they go on holiday.
Conservative member Mr Mountain has made a call online for people to suggest ways of tackling the problem and has already held meetings with health board officials and Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson.
Off the back of these, he said, NHS Highland is ready to listen to what the public have to say – though it estimates the cost of extending current car parking and potentially adding barriers on site could be as much as £340,000.
The hospital currently has 1100 car parking spaces and last year received planning permission to create 150 more, though this had to be put on hold because of financial pressures.
Nevertheless Mr Mountain says he has been encouraged by the discussions so far. as well as the suggestions being put forward on his campaign’s Facebook page.
"Suggestions have included fobs for staff and different tokens for visitors and patients, though that seems a little complicated and would need staff to hand tokens out," he said.
"Others would rather see a barcode on paper that comes with appointments. People visiting could pick up a code that changes daily and those without a barcode could be charged to stay there. If you are dropping off patients it could be like an airport where you have 20 minutes to drop off or pick up. I don’t think it needs to be prohibitive or complicated."
Mr Mountain is now looking to organise a meeting bringing together NHS Highland, the public and other interested politicians to discuss the proposals.
A spokeswoman for NHS Highland said: "We welcome Mr Mountain’s support in ensuring the car park is only used for those with a reason to be at the hospital."
But despite this positive note she also suggested that finances could remain a problem.
"Providing car parking space is not a statutory requirement or entitlement placed on NHS facilities or organisations," she said. "Therefore our constrained resources are being prioritised toward providing direct care to our patients and communities, which we would hope that our patients would understand."
She said that NHS Highland is currently using methods including video conferencing for appointments to reduce the number of patients having to attend in person at Raigmore.
A staff consultation carried out previously found that less than four per cent of people travelling to the hospital use public transport and that the car park itself fills up daily between 6am and 9am.