Health secretary Andy Burnham has pledged to phase out hospital car parking charges for inpatients and their relatives and friends over the next three years.
He made the announcement at the Labour Party annual conference in Brighton to a roar of applause.
It’s not right if some people don’t get visitors every day because their families can’t afford the parking fees
He said: “It’s not right if some people don’t get visitors every day because their families can’t afford the parking fees. And we all know…that having friends and families around helps patients get better more quickly.”
The move will be paid for out of “back office savings”, he said.
Mr Burnham also discussed the pledge, made earlier this week, to provide earlier cancer diagnoses.
Earlier interventions would also be encouraged in other areas such as mental health, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, he said. Further details will be set out in a prevention strategy being drawn up with health minister Gillian Merron, to be published later this year.
He compared President Barack Obama’s attempts to transform healthcare in the US with yesterday’s announcement that elderly people with the highest needs will receive free personal care in their homes.
He said: “Just like President Obama shows courage by trying to create a fairer healthcare system, so we must take this time to create a fair social care system.”
The NHS will only fulfil its potential when it has a “stronger partner in social care”, he said.