Hospitals will be required from April to provide free car parking for disabled blue badge holders, parents of sick children staying overnight and staff working night shifts in England under plans promised in the Tory manifesto.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, announced that the new regime would be rolled out within months, making sure all hospitals follow the same rules to provide free parking for those in the most need.
The rules currently vary from hospital to hospital, but will now be standardised.
The Department for Health and Social Care gave no details of how much it would cost to scrap parking charges for these groups, but a government source said there would be extra funding from central government to help offset any shortfall in hospital budgets. During the election campaign, the Tories said around £78m would be available to help hospitals move to new parking regimes.
Hancock said the issue of hospital parking charges for the vulnerable had been “one of the concerns mentioned regularly on the doorsteps” saying that voters were concerned “that vulnerable people, and staff working nights, have to pay for hospital car parking”.
He said: “So we are today delivering on our manifesto commitment and setting out our new approach to NHS hospital parking charges.
“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 election, Labour went even further and promised to scrap hospital parking charges altogether.
The Tory promise, while not going as far, still marks a shift from the current regime under which NHS Trusts are responsible for setting any car park charges and reinvesting any profits into frontline care.
Hancock also said the policy was about delivering a promise to people who put their trust in the Tories at the election, with “many voting Conservative for the first time”.
In a separate policy aimed at showing the Tories are aiming to hold on to their new voters, the government unveiled a promise to improve open data information about bus services across England.
Baroness Vere, a transport minister, promised a new “golden age” for buses, even though services have been slashed in recent years.
She said this will mean information on routes, timetables, location and fares will be easier to access, and allow passengers to plan their journeys down to the minute.
Under the plans, operators will have to provide information on routes and timetables from early 2020, followed by location and fares data by 2021.
This will allow web developers will be able to add the information into existing apps or develop new products to help people get around.
Vere said the government recognised that “buses are the most frequently used form of public transport” across the country.
However, critics of the government point out that bus services have been severely reduced under nine years of the Conservatives amid much lower funding for local councils.
The Campaign for Better Transport found in October that well over 3,000 bus routes have been cut back or withdrawn in England since 2010, with overall funding £400m a year lower over that period.