Hunt reforms hospital parking rules
Relatives of chronically ill patients must be given free or cheap hospital parking under new rules announced by the Government.
Patients with disabilities and those with frequent appointments as well as staff working shifts will also benefit from the shake-up, according to Jeremy Hunt.
The Health Secretary said new guidelines for English hospitals had been drawn up to put an end to the stress of "unfair" charges. Under the reforms, t rusts should waive fines when an overstay is beyond the control of the driver, such as treatment taking longer than planned.
Mr Hunt last month admitted he had concerns about the fees being charged to park at some hospitals after being pressed by Conservative backbenchers to put an end to the ''rip-off'' costs.
The guidance sets out for the first time that hospital trusts are responsible for the actions of any privately contracted firms they use to run their car parking operations. It also calls on hospitals should also look at introducing pay on exit systems so that they only pay for the time they have used.
Mr Hunt said: "Patients and families shouldn't have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges.
"These clear ground rules set out our expectations, and will help the public hold the NHS to account for unfair charges or practices."
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who has led a campaign for reforms, said the move was a "massive step forward" but insisted that charges should be axed altogether in the future.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "In the long term I think we need to scrap hospital car parking charges completely because they are a stealth tax.
"It was never envisaged that people with cars should be subsidising the NHS."
Ending charging would cost the health service around £200 million which could be funded by savings from switching to generic versions of branded drugs, he said.
The MP said parking charges were causing "misery" for thousands of vulnerable people.
"The stories that we've had of people not being able to use the machines so they haven't been able to see their dying relatives is quite horrific and we have to make a change."
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: "The Tory-led Government scrapped Labour's plans to phase out car parking charges for patients and Jeremy Hunt needs to take responsibility for the fact that, since then, one in four hospitals have increased parking fees.
"Any action to ease the burden of car parking charges on patients and their visitors is welcome. When people go to hospital, the last thing they want to worry about is parking fees."
Duleep Allirajah, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "The core principle of the NHS is to provide free healthcare for all at the point of access. But sadly some cancer patients in England are paying extortionate hospital car parking charges in order to access treatment for a life-threatening illness.
"Cancer patients receiving vital treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy will often need to make frequent trips to hospital and unaffordable charges are leaving many out of pocket.
"Macmillan Cancer Support is pleased the Government has recognised this as a problem and has issued new guidelines advising hospitals to offer concessions, including free or reduced charges or caps for people with disabilities such as cancer.
"Hospitals must not ignore Government guidance and commit to implementing the guidelines as a matter of urgency so that cancer patients do not continue to pay unfair hospital parking charges."
Anna Bird, head of research and policy at Scope, said: "Today's action by the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to tackle unfair parking charges will make a real difference to many disabled people and their families.
"Forking out for parking during routine hospital visits is just one example of where everyday life costs more if you, or someone you care for, is disabled.
"From higher heating bills to taxi fares and pricey equipment like wheelchairs or stairlifts, it all adds up. On average, disabled people spend £550 per month on disability-related outgoings, and this has a huge impact on living standards, making it harder to afford the basics in life, save for the future or live independently."