PLANS to introduce Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) at Westmorland General Hospital (WGH) have been slammed by union representatives.

The issue of parking at the hospital has long been a contentious issue, but the latest proposal from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Health Trust has caused particular controversy.

The system uses remotely controlled CCTV cameras to record car number plates, but arguments have raged over how the images are used to apply fines.

Unite union officials said they were "absolutely horrified" at what they described as a "ludicrous" suggestion.

"Putting aside the fact that hospital parking is a hugely contentious issue, and is seen by many as a tax on the ill, the implications for patients, their families and staff at WGH are likely to be significant," said Unite regional organiser Gail Bundy.

"The Trust has acknowledged in its own project plan that there will likely be over 100 parking penalty charge notice appeals or queries every day for the first three months of the proposed contract being in place: potentially diverting scarce resource from front line care budgets.

"This change is likely to hit patients and their families in the pocket.

"NHS Trusts made a staggering £69 million in car parking charges from NHS staff alone in 2017/18, and any increase in charges and fines to our underpaid and valued staff would be intolerable."

However the Trust's chief operating officer Foluke Ajayi explained that the Trust did not have the resources to undertake major capital building projects to alleviate parking problems at WGH and the Trust's other two hospitals in Lancaster and Barrow.

And she stressed that ANPR was just one of a number of proposals the Trust was currently examining.

"There are lots of myths around ANPR, such as penalty payments and how long people can overstay before they are charged extra," she added.

"We have not made any final decisions to implement ANPR, or any other solution, but if it was implemented the penalty charges and process would be for the Trust to agree with a contractor not the other way around.

"For many people coming into hospital can be a stressful and worrying time and we want to ease these feelings not make them worse.

"ANPR wouldn’t solve all of our parking issues but would assist with the ‘flow’ of cars and ensure we are receiving all of the charges due to us without the Trust implementing further costly enforcement measures."