Hopes for free hospital parking likely to be dashed

Hopes that hospitals in England could be banned from charging patients for parking look set to be dashed, after Ministers indicated it was too expensive.

The former Labour government began a consultation last year on how to implement a pledge by then health secretary Andy Burnham to scrap charges within three years.

But the Tory-Lib Dem coalition has indicated it is likely to leave the decision in the hands of individual NHS trusts.

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Consumer groups have accused many health chiefs in England of ripping off patients – with fees netting trusts more than 100m a year.

Figures obtained by consumer group Which? last year showed that in 2008-09 Mid Yorkshire Hospitals raked in 866,783 – a profit margin of 112 per cent – while Sheffield Teaching Hospitals earned 1,110,415, a profit margin of 106 per cent.

Both the trusts were among the top five in England for parking profits – behind East Kent

Hospitals, Southampton University Hospitals and Norfolk

and Norwich University

Hospital, which reported a staggering profit margin of 534 per cent.

High costs also impact on local residents who often face a daily influx of cars parked in neighbouring streets as visitors and patients seek to avoid charges.

An announcement is expected soon but Health Minister Simon Burns said: "For a long time we have been unconvinced that Labour's car parking idea was properly funded and practical.

"Andy Burnham himself was forced to retreat from his initial commitment on hospital car parking and even some members of his own party didn't support his proposal.

"That said, it is clear that where parking charges are making it difficult for staff to do their jobs properly, where they are damaging patient access to services, or preventing friends and family from visiting then hospital trusts have a responsibility to respond to those factors".

Ciaran Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, accused Ministers of failing cancer patients and passing the buck on to local hospitals.