NHS hospitals have been accused of putting a "tax on sickness" after data showed they made a record £174 million over the last year from charging patients, visitors and staff for car parking.
Data shows hospitals across England raked in £174,526,970 in parking charges in 2016/17 - a six percent increase on the year before, when hospitals took in £164,162,458.
While NHS trusts in England continue to charge patients, visitors and staff for parking, hospital parking in Scotland and Wales remains largely free.
The Liberal Democrats branded the charges a "tax on sickness", but some hospitals defended the charges, saying some or all of the money is put back into patient care, or spent on maintaining car parks and grounds.
The data was obtained using the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, with some 120 NHS trusts across England asked to give figures on parking charges and fines. Of those, 111 responded.
- Which hospitals made the most from parking charges?
The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust came out top when it came to parking income, making £4,865,000 across the year.
Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, which raised £3,946,312 in 2016/17, came in second.
Other trusts making more than £3 million in 2016/17 included: Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (£3,918,587); Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (£3,620,368); Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (£3,073,222); and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (£3,706,845).
Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust also made £3,228,301 in 2016/17. And University Hospital Southampton made £3,730,000 in parking charges.
- Which hospitals are the most expensive for a one-hour visit?
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.
- Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford - £4
- Hereford County Hospital - £3.50
- Bristol Royal Infirmary - £3.40
- Northampton General - £3.20
- St Thomas' Hospital, London - £3.20
- Southend University Hospital - £3.10
- Royal Free, London - £3
- Basildon Hospital, Essex - £3
- Whittington Hospital, London (after 5pm) - £3
- Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London - £3
- Aintree University Hospital - £3
- Luton and Dunstable - £3
- Mid Cheshire Hospitals - £3
- Mid Essex - £3
- University Hospital of South Manchester - £3
- St James's, Leeds - £2.90
- How much did hospitals make from parking fines?
Only 40 trusts provided data on parking fines, but the data showed NHS trusts in England made £947,568 in 2016/17 from fining patients, visitors and staff on hospital grounds - up 32% on the £716,385 taken by the trusts the year before.
The investigation found that half (56) of NHS trusts also charge disabled people for parking in some or all of their disabled spaces, with more trusts now saying they charge disabled visitors compared to last year.
- What are people saying about it?
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."
Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "Hospital parking charges are an entirely unfair and unnecessary burden, which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people using our health service.
"Even [Health Secretary] Jeremy Hunt has described this outrageous practice as a 'stealth tax', and yet Tory underfunding of our NHS has resulted in hospitals and private companies extracting record fees from patients and staff."
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the charges were unacceptable, but noted that the state of NHS finances meant it was hard to blame hospitals for trying to find money.
"For patients, parking charges amount to an extra charge for being ill," she said.
"The increase in the number of trusts who are charging for disabled parking is particularly concerning."