Free NHS hospital parking for 'those in greatest need'
Free parking for thousands of NHS patients and visitors will begin being rolled out in England from April.
Blue badge holders and patients who must regularly attend appointments for long-term conditions will get free hospital parking under the plans being outlined on Friday.
All hospital trusts in England will also be expected to give free parking at specific times to parents with sick children staying overnight and staff on night shifts.
Trusts manage their own car parking arrangements and reinvest the profits into frontline care.
The rules currently vary from hospital to hospital, but will now be standardised.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust offer exemptions to people receiving cancer treatment and people with a family member who is critically ill.
The Trust brought in £3,968,709 from parking revenue in 2018/19, putting it in the top 10 list of highest earners from parking.
The Department of Health was not setting aside funding to reimburse trusts that may see their finances impacted under the changes, which were in the Conservative Party manifesto.
But a department spokeswoman said "they will be supported" to ensure the policy does not affect care.
Dr Moira Fraser-Pearce, a director at Macmillan Cancer Support, welcomed the announcement but called for other Tory promises to be implemented to see a "sorely needed" boost to the size of the NHS workforce.
"Cancer can be a huge burden on your finances and in England hospital car parking charges - especially for those undergoing regular treatment - can add significantly to this strain," she added.
"This long-awaited announcement will be a game-changer for many, allowing them to attend appointments and focus on their health without the extra worry about their finances."
A study by the PA news agency earlier this month found one in three hospitals in England put up the cost of parking last year.
The research showed hospitals made more than £254 million from parking in 2018/19, up 10 per cent on the previous year.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "One of the concerns mentioned regularly on the doorsteps was that vulnerable people, and staff working nights, have to pay for hospital car parking.
"Currently, the situation varies from hospital to hospital. Instead, from April, across the country those with the greatest need, such as disabled people, parents staying overnight with sick children in hospital, and NHS staff working night shifts, will no longer have to pay for parking."
Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "Labour MPs have longed campaigned for hospital car parking charges to be ditched.
"But yet again patients will have to examine the small print as many will still have to pay over the odds just because they are ill."
Most hospital's list their parking charges on their websites.
What are the charges at Leeds hospitals?
The charges are broadly similar at St James's and Leeds General Infirmary.
Up to two hours costs £2.90. A six-hour stay is £11, rising to £16.40 for 24 hours.
Rates are slightly lower at Seacroft Hospital and Chapel Allerton Hospital, and much lower at Wharfedale Hospital.
What are the exemptions at Leeds hospitals?
The Trust say: "We try to be as fair as possible to everyone and have a number of groups who are exempt from paying car parking charges.
"These include people receiving cancer treatment and people with a family member who is critically ill.
"Car Parking concessions are applied to those staying overnight with children after five days of overnight stay in hospital.
"The ward staff will authorise this concession upon request.
"In addition, drivers with disabled parking badges are exempt from paying charges, as are our volunteers."
What has the Trust said about parking charges in the past?
Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Trust said: “We charge for parking so that the cost of building, maintaining and improving our car parking facilities and the security arrangements – lighting, cameras and patrols – do not come from healthcare budgets.
“Our minimum charge at the majority of our hospital sites is two hours as we know that, in many cases, one hour is just not enough for appointments and visits.
“Overall the Trust has over 5,000 car parking spaces across six hospital sites, including two multi-storey car parks.
"We have over 1.6 million vehicles on site each year so parking charges and income should be seen in that context.”