HOSPITAL bosses have been told to slash the cost of parking for certain groups of patients, under new government guidelines.

Ministers said relatives of people who were seriously ill, or had to stay in hospital for long periods, should also be given free parking or reduced charges.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) said it already offered free parking to cancer patients, while concessionary charges are also available for frequent visitors.

It costs £3.50 to park at the Royal Blackburn or Burnley General hospital for a full day, which compares favourably with the north west average of £5.50.

But health campaigner Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, said he was contacted on a daily basis by patients and families complaining about the charges.

He added: “If this results in the charges being removed or reduced for some patients, then it’s brilliant news. The trust appear to follow some of the guidelines already, but many patients feel ripped off and I’ll make it my mission to make sure they follow all of them.”

The guidelines also recommend that fines should be waived when an overstay is out of the patient’s or visitor’s control, while free or reduced charges should be available to disabled people, frequent outpatient attendees and staff working on overnight shifts.

ELHT charges £1.90 for a stay of 0-3 hours, and £2.80 for a 3-8 hour stay.

Martin Morgan, director of estates and facilities, said: “The trust recognises that hospital car parking charges are an emotive subject and welcome the recently published guidance which will be helpful to ensure a consistent approach between NHS hospitals.

“The trust has provided free car parking for several years for cancer patients attending our sites for treatment.

“Other concessionary parking is available for frequent visitors to our hospitals as the trust offers four free car park attendances within a total of six attendances where receipts are presented. Disabled visitors on benefits can park free of charge.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “These clear ground rules set out our expectations, and will help the public hold the NHS to account for unfair charges or practices.”