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A row over taxis obstructing ambulances at Blackpool Victoria Hospital has led to a threat that offending drivers may lose their licences.

Although parking, picking-up and dropping-off is not permitted in the ambulance-only area, it is alleged that some Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles are parking and waiting in restricted areas. No entry signs and floor-painted markings indicating ‘ambulance only’ are being ignored. There is also growing concern about the number of taxis using a slip road as a short cut from North Park Drive on to Whinney Heys Road, avoiding the major roundabout at busy periods. This is supposed to be reserved for the sole use of emergency ambulances. Graham Curry of Blackpool Ambulance Station commented: "Care has been taken to make the area outside A & E a 'sterile area' where ambulance crews can carry out their work without fear of collision with other vehicles.

"We've received written complaints from staff that taxis were driving through the area and sometimes blocking the doors to the A & E department. After consultation with the council, its enforcement officers have decided to act. This hasn't been done to create any animosity between the taxi drivers and the ambulance service — it's purely to protect the safety of patients and allow our staff to carry out their duties in as safe an environment as is possible." The secretary of the Blackpool Licensed Taxi Association, Trevor Boaler, defended drivers, arguing that passengers often asked to be dropped off at the doors of A & E. However, he did acknowledge that there was a problem and that a solution had to be found: "I've asked to be provided with registration and plate numbers of any offending taxis or private hire cars. If they're members of our association, we will discipline them or contact their operator. "There is a lack of knowledge among drivers who don't realise they should not drive across the ambulance-only area. Perhaps the solution is for the hospital to put adequate signs up prohibiting people from dropping off near A & E. But often it's at the request of the passenger and the driver is just being courteous. It's difficult if the person is disabled or elderly and it's raining, for example."

The public protection officer at Blackpool Council, Tim Coglan, commented: "There are plenty of warning signs in the area so taxi drivers and other motorists have no excuse for ignoring them and causing an obstruction to the emergency vehicles. We've now informed drivers what consequences they will face if they continue to park dangerously." A spokesman for Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Trust added: "This is an issue of concern and we are working closely with the ambulance service and licensing authority to address it." In an effort to resolve the problem, the hospital is prepared to pass CCTV evidence of offending drivers to enforcement officers. Any drivers who are caught may then face prosecution and risk losing their licence. Blackpool Council licensing officials have issued a newsletter to taxi drivers that sets out their position in stark terms: "This dangerous, immoral and idiotic practice, contrary to public safety, is being caused by taxi drivers either dropping-off or picking-up patients in the restricted area for ambulances."

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