'Rip-off' hospital parking charges top £250m a year with relatives charged £100 a visit

Laura Donnelly
Patients and visitors said they had been hit by 'extortionate' charges  - PA

Hospitals are charging relatives more than £100 to visit the sick amid record charges of more than £250 million a year, an investigation reveals.

One in three NHS trusts increased their prices in the last year, with overall charges rising by 10 per cent, the findings show. 

Campaigners criticised the “rip-off” fees which they said amounted to a tax on being ill.

The investigation of 144 NHS trusts came alongside a survey of almost 8,000 patients and visitors who recently used hospital car parks. 

One man told how a visit to see his sick wife had cost him £102.

Half of trusts charged for disabled parking, the investigation found. 

The Tories have pledged to make parking free for those in greatest need, including the disabled, parents of sick children staying overnight and staff working nights.

Labour says it will scrap all hospital parking charges.

Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust raked in the most parking cash last year with £6.4m.

This was followed by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, who earned £5.9m from drivers, and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust who made £5m.

And North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust had the highest hourly rate, at £4 for 60 minutes.

In the survey of 7, 883 recent users of hospital car parks, disabled patients told how they were fined for parking, even though they had not been able to find a space. 

Overall, 86 per cent of those polled said parking added to the stress of a hospital visit.

One patient said: "The car parks are so busy that from 16.30 until 17.30 it can take nearly one hour to leave the hospital", while another said: "I spent over £102 to visit my wife."

Others described the charges as "a rip-off", "too expensive", "extortionate", "astronomical" and "exorbitant".

A doctor told of being fined for parking while taking a patient to a hospital. And a visitor described having to move their car regularly, during a hospital visit, because they could only find a two-hour slot.

The financial data gathered from 144 NHS trusts shows that hospitals made £254,373,068 from charging for parking in 2018/19.

This included at least £142,958,247 from patients and visitors and £65,219,879 from staff.

The record high is up 10 per cent from the £232,236,216 the year before.

Income from parking fines increased by 8 per cent in 2018/19 to £1,557,749

Overall, 47 NHS trusts increased their charges between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

The survey revealed that patients and visitors often struggle to find spaces, experience a lack of disabled parking, and find long queues and parking meters that do not work.

The survey found 49 per cent of people said nobody should have to pay for parking at hospitals.

Just under half of trusts said their car parks were managed by a private company, with at least 23 of these private firms taking all the fines income. 

Only England's hospitals routinely charge for parking - car parks are largely free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association said the charges were a tax on illness. 

She said: "Given the sustained under-funding of the NHS, it is not surprising that hospitals are seeking to claw back money through increased parking charges on patients. 

“But it is an unjust charge levied on people who are ill, because they are ill, and on the people who care about them. We need to see a full funding settlement for the health and care system, and car parking charges abolished once it is in place.

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said increases in the cost of parking were frustrating, but added: "Car parks are expensive to run for the trusts that own them.

"These parking facilities must be maintained, lit well, and secure. Parking facilities must also provide good access for patients, families and staff.

"All charges by trusts for parking cover the day-to-day running of car parking at the hospital, with any surplus reinvested back into wider services for patients or improving these facilities."

She said abolishing charges could cost around £200 million per year, and trusts would have to find funding from elsewhere, which could "impact on patient care".

The most expensive hospital trusts in England for a one-hour stay

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust - £4

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust- £3.80

Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust - £3.60

Hereford County Hospital - £3.50

North Bristol NHS Trust - £3.50

Ashford and St Peter's Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - £3.50

The hospitals which took the most in parking charges, 2018/19

Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust - £6,352,676

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust - £5,876,000

University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust - £5,025,860

Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust - £4,962,583

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust - £4,740,464

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust - £4,239,851

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust - £4,202,315

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust - £3,968,709

University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust - £3,961,201

Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust - £3,951,985