‘Rip-off parking charges at hospitals will end’

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CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed new guidelines aimed at giving relatives of chronically-ill patients free or cheap hospital parking.

Patients with disabilities and those with frequent appointments as well as staff working shifts will also benefit from the shake-up, according to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

He said new guidelines for English hospitals had been drawn up to put an end to “unfair” charges. Under the reforms, trusts 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 fees being charged to park at some hospitals after being pressed by Conservative backbenchers to put an end to “rip-off” costs.

The guidance sets out for the first time that hospital trusts are responsible for the actions of privately contracted firms they use to run their car parking operations. It calls on hospitals to look at introducing pay on exit systems so that they only pay for time 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.”

Tory 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.

Duleep Allirajah, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “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.

“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.”

Health trusts in Yorkshire currently offer concessionary car parking for frequent attendees but have been strongly criticised for increasing charges and for how unpaid fines are pursued.