Hopes that hospitals in England could be banned from charging patients for parking look set to be dashed, after ministers indicated the move appeared too expensive.

The previous Labour government began a consultation last year on how to implement a pledge by then health secretary Andy Burnham to scrap charges within three years.

But the incoming Tory-Lib Dem coalition has indicated it was likely to leave the decision in the hands of individual NHS trusts.

Parking is free in the rest of the UK and consumer groups have accused many health chiefs in England of ripping off patients - with fees netting trusts more than £100m a year.

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 to the NHS car parking consultation soon and all decisions will be subject to the spending review.

“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 making it difficult for staff to do their jobs properly, where they are damaging patient access to services, or preventing friends and family from visiting then hospital trusts have a responsibility to respond to those factors”.

Mr Burnham insisted the plan was affordable and pledged to make it Labour policy to provide in-patients with one free pass to ease their costs if elected party leader.

“Patients and their families will feel let down by this,” he said.

“Car parking charges make it harder for families to visit their loved ones in hospital, and Labour’s funded plan to phase them out for inpatients would have made a real difference. So much for the Tories’ promise not to make cuts in the NHS.”