NHS hospitals raked in a record £174m in the last year from charging patients, visitors and staff for car parking, it can be revealed.
Hospitals across England took £174,526,970 in parking charges in 2016/17, a 6 per cent rise compared with the previous year, new figures show.
In 2015/16, £164,162,458 was raised. The rising charges have been branded a “tax on sickness” by the Liberal Democrats.
It comes after an investigation by The Yorkshire Post last month revealed the shocking number of visitors slapped with fines for parking at hospitals in Yorkshire.
As previously reported by this newspaper, at least 75,000 people were hit with penalty notices by NHS trusts in the region from 2012 to March this year.
The fines raked in more than £200,000 for Yorkshire NHS hospital trusts, or their management companies, in 2016/17.
While NHS trusts in England continue to charge patients, visitors and staff for parking, hospital parking in Scotland and Wales remains largely free.
But the latest figures revealed that half, some 56, of NHS trusts charge disabled people for parking in some or all of their disabled spaces.
The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust came out top when it came to parking income, making £4.8m across the year.
Yorkshire’s Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which collected £3.7m, was also among a series of trusts making more than £3m a year from parking charges for 2016/17.
The list of top-earners through the charges also included Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at £3.9m, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust at £3.6m and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust at more than £3m.
The new data, obtained following a series of requests made under the Freedom of Information ACT, also shows the cost of parking for one hour at England’s NHS hospital trusts.
The most expensive trust in the country for a one-hour stay is the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, where patients pay £4 if they need to stay for an hour.
This is followed by Hereford County Hospital, at £3.50 for a one-hour stay, Bristol Royal Infirmary at £3.40 and Northampton General at £3.20.
For the most expensive one-hour visits, Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust’s St James’s Hospital site ranked in the top 16 among all NHS trusts in England.
While the trust technically charges visitors £2.90 for a two-hour stay in the hospital car park - there is no one-hour option.
It is the most expensive short stay NHS hospital car park in all of Yorkshire, according to the data.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “The vast sums of money that hospitals are making from parking charges reveal the hidden cost of healthcare faced by many patients and their families.
“Hospital car park charges amount to a tax on sickness, with people who are chronically ill or disabled bearing the brunt.”
A spokesperson for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “Our minimum charge at the majority of our hospital sites is two hours as we know that, in many cases, one hour is just not enough for appointments and visits.
“As our hospitals are very close to the city centre, our rates are set in line with surrounding car parks otherwise they would become full very quickly with people parking to go into town or work. This would leave fewer spaces for patients and visitors needing to come into hospital.
“Income we receive from car parking helps us to continue providing and maintaining the car parks, including paying rates and other charges on them, providing security patrols and cameras, and traffic officers.
"This avoids us having to use the funding we receive for patients’ care to subsidise the cost of providing and maintaining car parks."
They added that some patients and visitors are entitled to exemptions via parking permits.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Patients and families should not have to deal with the added stress of complex and unfair parking charges.
“NHS organisations are locally responsible for the methods used to charge, and we want to see them coming up with flexible options that put patients and their families first.”