Labour's free NHS parking plan may be cut
The coalition government has distanced itself from a pledge made by the previous Labour government to abolish hospital car park charges in England.
In 2009 Labour Health Secretary Andy Burnham promised to scrap the fees, which raise about £110m a year.
But the Department of Health has now said the idea to scrap car parking charges was not properly funded.
A Department of Health source said it was not a U-turn, because the current government had never committed itself.
Health minister Simon Burns said: "For a long time we have been unconvinced that Labour's car parking idea was properly funded and practical.
"We will publish a response soon and all decisions will be subject to the spending review."
Mr Burns continued: "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 preventing friends and family from visiting, then hospital trusts have a responsibility to respond."
'Tax on illness'
Mr Burnham, now shadow health secretary, said: "Patients and their families will feel let down by this.
"Car parking charges make it harder for families to visit their loved ones in hospital, and Labour's funded plan to phase them out would have made a real difference.
"So much for the Tories' promise not to make cuts in the NHS."
Ciaran Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said hospital parking charges were an "unjust tax on illness".
She said: "Nine out of 10 people believe that cancer patients should get free parking at hospital.
"The government should listen and scrap hospital car parking charges for cancer patients in England."
She added: "Parking charges are a huge burden for cancer patients who typically make 53 trips to hospital during treatment."
Parking is already free at most hospitals in Scotland and Wales and for certain priority groups of patients in Northern Ireland.
The plan had been to phase out charges at hospitals in England over three years.
The average charge per hour for hospital car parks in England in 2008/9 was £1.09.