NHS parking fees for thousands of disabled patients, visitors and staff working overnight will be abolished from April 2020, the health secretary will outline today.
First trailed in the Conservative manifesto, the policy will apply to blue badge holders and patients who most regularly attend appointments for long-term conditions.
All hospital trusts in England will also be expected to provide free parking to the parents of sick children staying in hospital overnight and staff who are working night shifts.
But Labour, who pledged during the election to abolish parking costs at NHS hospitals altogether, warned that many patients will still have to pay at trusts across the country “just because they are ill”.
It comes after a survey earlier this month highlighted that one in three hospitals in England had put up the cost of parking last year, with hospitals making more than £254m from parking in 2018-19 – up 10 per cent on the previous year.
Downing Street said extra money would be made available to offset the funds lost by hospital trusts as a result of the measures, but was unable to put a figure on the total cost.
As it stands, NHS trusts manage their own car parking arrangements and are expected to reinvest the profits into frontline care. A government source also made clear the changes will apply to hospitals who outsource their parking to private contractors.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “This month millions of people put their trust in this government to deliver. One of the concerns mentioned regularly on the doorsteps was that vulnerable people, and staff working nights, have to pay 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 nightshifts – will no longer have to pay for parking.”
During the general election, Jeremy Corbyn had vowed to provide free hospital parking for patients, staff and visitors by eradicating fees altogether.
Responding to Mr Hancock’s comments, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “Labour MPs have long 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. The Tories say one thing to grab the headlines but the reality is very different.”
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.”