From today, England is the only country in the United Kingdom where cancer patients are charged to park their cars while receiving hospital treatment.

The charges can amount to hundreds of pounds and have been condemned as a "tax on illness".

A study by Macmillan Cancer Support found that the average patient with cancer visits hospital 53 times and pays £325 to park their car. Advances in cancer treatment mean that patients spend less time in hospital as in-patients and can recover at home. But the frequent visits required for drug or radio-therapy carry a heavy cost in parking charges.

Scotland has abolished NHS hospital car parking charges for cancer patients from today, following the lead by Wales in April 2008, and Northern Ireland in May 2008.

The cost of parking at hospitals has risen by 27 per cent in four years, earning almost £112m for the NHS in England in 2007-08.

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