RVH car parking provision for disabled users is an absolute disgrace, says campaigner
A well-known campaigner for disabled people's rights has slammed the car parking facilities at the Royal Victoria Hospital as disgraceful.
Michaela Hollywood (28), who was named as one of the world's most inspirational women three years ago, has been using the hospital most of her life, but said the situation has never been worse.
The RVH is notorious for its daily long queues of frustrated motorists for whom finding a parking space can often take more than an hour.
It can be even more of a nightmare for people such as Michaela, who has the congenital muscle wasting condition spinal muscular atrophy, and she described the Royal's disabled parking spaces as "rubbish for wheelchair accessible vehicles".
Her other complaints included the drop-off zone outside the Belfast hospital's main building being a 15-minute walk from the clinic she has to visit, and security staff advising her to "park on the Falls Road", even though that is not permitted.
Crossgar woman Michaela, who was born with no ears and is profoundly deaf, regularly attends the hearing aid clinic at the RVH.
The Muscular Dystrophy UK employee drives a Mercedes Sprinter van from her wheelchair using hand controls - but the vehicle is too large for the disabled bays, meaning the drop-off zone is the only place she can park.
"I've made six stressful trips to the Royal in the last month alone, and on each occasion I had to bring my father with me to sit in the van and stop it getting clamped," she said.
"The hospital really needs to sort this out. Because I'm driving a vehicle that has to carry vital equipment for my disability, there's no real drop-off option for me.
"If my van was clamped I'm too tall to fit into a taxi (because of the wheelchair) so I don't know where I would be."
She added: "I actually don't know where I'm supposed to go or what to do. But I know the car parks are totally inaccessible. Multi-storey is out of bounds because of the height of my van. It's an absolute disgrace."
The dedicated fundraiser was named among the world's top 100 most influential woman in 2015 for her services to young disabled people, which included founding the Trailblazers charity. Her sister Martina, who died in 1997 aged 15, had the same condition as Michaela.
She added: "I'm probably more aware than most that time is precious and you don't need to be stressed about parking."
The Belfast Trust said the 73 available spaces for blue badge holders are "usually adequate to meet demand".
"There can, however, be delays in drivers accessing the blue badge spaces, especially those that can accommodate larger vehicles," it said.
"Our security staff try to find a suitable alternative parking location for such vehicles when they can and Shopmobility service provides support for those with limited mobility to access the hospitals from our main car park.
"We are currently reviewing car park provision and traffic management arrangements. This includes an assessment of the location and design of parking for patients with mobility restrictions."
Parking problems at the Royal are such an issue that apology signs about the long waits have been erected, which some disgruntled drivers believe is proof that little is being done to address the situation.
One motorist said it was "like the Wild West" when the main car park operates a 'one vehicle in, one vehicle out' system, with drivers scrambling to find the one available empty space. The Belfast Trust said the 1,850 parking spaces on the Royal Victoria Hospital site "are limited by the size of the site and the ongoing building programme".
"Unfortunately, at peak times demand exceeds the number of spaces," it added.
"We actively manage car park resources to minimise impact on patients and visitors, so if a lengthy queue forms at a car park, our staff redirect motorists to available spaces in staff car parks.
"Additionally, arrangements are made for patients and their relatives, who have to attend for treatment regularly, to use the staff car park. We continually review opportunities to increase and improve car park provision where we can."