NHS hospital parking fee rises criticised
More than a quarter of hospital trusts in England increased car parking charges for patients and visitors in the year to last April, figures show.
While some cut prices, others more than doubled them, according to data from 197 hospital and mental health trusts.
A patients' group branded the fees a "tax on the sick" and called for NHS parking to be free, as in most of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ministers say making parking free would mean taking £100m from the care budget.
The figures, analysed by data company SSentif, were provided to the NHS Information Centre by the trusts.
They show 28% put up their car parking charges between 2010 and 2011, with only 16% reducing them.
They stated that fees at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust jumped 112%, from an average of 67p an hour to £1.42, while North West London Hospitals NHS Trust charged £1.58 an hour on average, up 81% from 88p.
But United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust said it had not increased its car parking charges since 2009, which had been the first time in four years, and the figures appeared to be incorrect.
"Many patients at Lincolnshire's hospitals do not pay for parking, but these patients have not been included in this analysis," it said in a statement. "Anyone parking for three hours would pay £1 per hour. No one need pay more than £3.50 for up to 24 hours."
The figures showed that prices at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust and London's Royal Marsden cancer hospital doubled to an average of £1 an hour, while they tripled to 75p an hour at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.
Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy described parking charges as "exorbitant" for those who have to attend hospital regularly.
"It is often money patients do not have in these troubled financial times and is a tax on the sick when people have already paid for their health service," she said.
"Hospitals should be properly supported by the government and should not have to rely on charging patients and visitors to park to make ends meet."
The figures suggested patients and visitors in London and south-east England paid the most, with the cheapest charges in the South West.
Separate analysis found some trusts were charging much more than the national average (77p) for an hour's hospital parking, based on the average from a three-hour stay.
For example, Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was charging £1.60 for one hour, £2.10 for two and £4.20 for up to four.
Parking at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust cost £2.50 an hour on average, starting at £3.50 for up to one hour.
In September 2010, the government announced it would not back a pledge made by Labour to scrap parking charges in England's hospitals, saying the plan could not be justified.
Health Minister Simon Burns said parking policies were a local issue but should not discriminate against patients who require frequent or extended treatment.
"NHS organisations must make the best use of public funds, and this includes setting car parking charges at a rate which is reasonable for the communities they serve and provides appropriate concessions," he said.
"No one should be paying extortionate amounts to park in an NHS car park, but introducing free hospital car parking could cost the NHS more than £100m - money that would otherwise be spent on patient care."