Some hospital trusts make millions a year from car parks
Some hospital trusts in England are making more than £3m a year from car parking fees, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have shown.
Of more than 90 trusts that responded to FOI requests, half are making at least £1m a year, the news agency Press Association (PA) found.
The Patients Association said the charges were "morally wrong".
But many trusts defended their revenues, saying some or all of the money was put back into patient care.
The investigation showed hospitals were making increasing amounts of money from staff, patients and visitors - including those who are disabled - who used their car parks.
It also found hospitals were giving millions of pounds to private firms to run their car parks for them, with some receiving money from parking fines.
Others are tied into private finance initiative contracts, where all the money charged from car parks goes to companies under the terms of the scheme.
Seven NHS trusts earned more than £3m in 2014-15 from charges, another eight made more than £2m a year and a further 33 earned more than £1m a year.
Almost half of all trusts also charged disabled people for parking in some or all of their disabled spaces.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "The money is never reinvested in frontline services. Hospital car parks are often managed by private contractors who take a huge percentage of the profits.
"This is morally wrong - and charging disabled people is a disgrace."
Laura Keely, from charity Macmillan Cancer Support, told the BBC: "You shouldn't necessarily penalise cancer patients and other people with long-term conditions who are having to attend hospital to receive life saving treatment, that just isn't fair.
"There could be concessionary schemes. There could be barrier schemes, people proving that they are there for a hospital appointment, to weed out people who should not be using the hospital [car park] to do their Christmas shopping."
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said the figures were "worrying".
Josie Irwin, head of employment relations at the Royal College of Nursing, said the charges were having a "real impact" on nurses' pay.
Hospital car parking charges in Scotland and Wales were abolished in 2008.
Three car parks in Scotland, operated under Private Finance Initiative contracts, still have car parking fees. The Scottish government said there are no plans to abolish charges at these hospitals.
Three hospitals in Wales also continue to charge, but have been told to stop doing so once their contracts with private parking firms end in 2018.
A spokesperson for Northern Ireland's Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said hospital parking charges are permitted "where they are set to recover the cost of investment in and maintenance of car park provision including associated security costs".
Patients receiving radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment, patients receiving renal dialysis and next of kin visiting patients in critical care or a high dependency unit are eligible for free car parking in Northern Ireland.
The amounts NHS trusts made:
- University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust took £3,876,314 in parking charges in 2014-15
- Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust raised £3,728,000 net in 2014/15
- The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust took £3,413,413 in 2014-15. This was less than the previous year, but up on the £2,788,293 it took in 2011-12
- Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust raised £3,160,913 in 2014-15, up from £2,977,109 in 2013-14
- University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust raised £3,126,108 in 2014-15, up from £3,002,865 in 2013-14
The London North West Healthcare NHS Trust paid £1.8m in 2014 went to the company Apcoa, which manages the Northwick Park multi-storey under a PFI contract.
The company, which pays the trust about £40,000 a month on a lease basis, also kept £34,052 in parking fines in 2014.
Some NHS trusts also raised a significant amount from charging staff for parking.
Of the £3,876,314 the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust raised from parking charges in 2014-15, £1,206,836 was from staff.
Many trusts said the money was put back into patient care or was spent on maintaining car parks or grounds.
Others said their size and the fact that they served busy neighbourhoods meant they took more in revenue.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We expect all NHS organisations to follow our guidelines on car parking, including offering discounts to disabled people.
"Patients and families shouldn't have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges and our guidance rightly helps the public hold the NHS to account for any unfair charges or practices."