DISABLED drivers have condemned changes to parking arrangements at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary.

New pay-on-exit barriers were set to alleviate long-standing parking problems at the hospital, but have resulted in fresh criticism from both disabled drivers and neighbouring residents.

It follows a decision to move all disabled spaces to a dedicated area the back of the infirmary, opposite the helipad.

In the past, if there were no spaces, blue badge holders could park in the main car park for free. But the barrier means they now have to pay for a ticket.

The problem has been magnified as building contractors have currently cordoned off more than a quarter of the 47 available disabled spaces.

Hospital bosses say the new arrangements aim to improve parking, with an overall increase in blue badge spaces.

But disabled driver David Kirkwood, who attends the hospital himself and accompanies elderly relatives, said every day people are struggling to get parked.

He almost missed his heart appointment at the hospital because he was waiting for an available parking space. In the end he parked on the hatched area next to the disabled bays and displayed his blue badge. On his return, he found wardens had issued a penalty fine.

He said: “There are skips, machinery and pallets in lots of the disabled spaces. They are completely blocked off. It’s a total disgrace.

“It wasn’t just me struggling to park. Other people had also parked in the hatched area and were given tickets.

“I had no choice. It was that or miss my appointment. I wasn’t blocking anyone in and had my blue badge on.

“What makes it even worse is that the skips are in the spaces nearest the door. They could have at least used the ones furthest away.”

Another driver, who cares for her elderly husband, has written to patient watchdog Healthwatch Cumbria.

Hilary Wilson described disabled parking provision at the infirmary as “woefully inadequate” and condemned the decision to remove spaces at the front of the hospital. She also believes blue badge holders should still be able to park for free in the main car park.

Mrs Wilson added: “I think it is immoral they are penalising the chronically ill and disabled.”

Hospital bosses say they are trying to improve parking, but admitted some of the disabled spaces have been taken over by contractors - and this is likely to continue until the end of February.

Although they now have to pay in the main car parks, they said blue badge holders can park for free in staff car parks instead.

A spokeswoman for North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “One of the changes we have made is to increase the number of dedicated blue badge spaces and moved them all into one level area to make access easier.

“A blue badge holder can also park with no charge in any of the staff car parks displaying their badge.

“Building work is taking place and unfortunately this has meant the temporary loss of some blue badge spaces. The work is nearing completion and the spaces will be restored at the end of this month. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience this has caused.”

The latest parking problems are not confined to the hospital site. Residents on nearby Clift Street say that since barriers were installed, they have been unable to get parked near their homes.

Margaret Chamberlin, who is 86 and walks using crutches, said she had to park in the middle of the road just to unload her shopping.

“We have always had a problem with hospital visitors and staff using the street, but it’s been even worse since the barriers were installed. It’s absolutely horrendous,” she said.

“They are parking in our back lane, in the narrow road to the hospital and even in people’s driveways. We can’t get anywhere near our homes. I’ve had to park streets away.”

She and her neighbours are now calling for the one-hour disc zone to be removed and the street instead made a residents’ permit-only area.

Cumbria County Council said it is aware of the concerns. “Parking enforcement officers are visiting the area and we are planning to consult with residents about making changes to the current on-street parking arrangements in the coming year,” a spokesman said.