Options to end hospital parking charges
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Andy Burnham has outlined proposals to phase out hospital parking charges for in-patients and some out-patients which he says have caused "great resentment".
The health secretary pledged a "fairer" system for relatives and friends of people admitted to hospital in England.
He is looking at whether to abolish fees for all in-patients' visitors - or just those admitted for a long stay.
For out-patients he will look at free parking, or a cap on charges, for those who need to make regular appointments.
Parking is already free at most hospitals in Scotland and Wales and for certain priority groups of patients in Northern Ireland.
Mr Burnham announced in September he wanted to phase out over three years charges at hospitals in England for patients who are admitted.
But the eight-week consultation - which runs until 23 February - will also look at charges for out-patients who have to make regular appointments - like cancer patients with regular chemotherapy sessions.
Policies on hospital car parking charging policy differ across the UK
Mr Burnham told the BBC: "I think the time has come for a fairer, more consistent approach to parking across the NHS. Frankly I think it's confusing at present, there are a wide variety of parking schemes."
He added it had "caused great resentment" but the government had to ensure that the costs of running secure car parks were covered.
NHS trusts have argued that some parking charges are necessary to ensure health funds are not diverted towards managing and maintaining car parks.
Mr Burnham said: "We want to have the consultation so we get the balance right, that we don't ask the NHS to do something at a time when there is pressure on its finances that it can't afford. But I believe what we're proposing is affordable."
When Mr Burnham announced plans to phase out charges for in-patients in September, Macmillan Cancer Support raised concerns that it would not apply to people with cancer having treatment as out-patients.
If the NHS cannot afford free parking for all patients, then at least more concessions should be made for long-term sufferers
The charity's head of campaigns, Mike Hobday, told the BBC on Tuesday: "Macmillan is really pleased that this consultation could mean free parking for cancer patients who have to go to hospital on average 53 times during the course of their treatment.
"What we need of course is for all political parties to commit to abolishing this unnecessary tax."
The average charge per hour for hospital car parks in England in 2008/9 was £1.09.
AA president Edmund King said: "Of course we need to manage parking spaces in hospitals, particularly in urban areas. However, for cancer sufferers undergoing chemotherapy and for other people who must attend on a day-patient basis, the costs soon add up.
"Also, due to the risk of infection, many patients are unable to use public transport. If the NHS cannot afford free parking for all patients, then at least more concessions should be made for long-term sufferers."