Some hospital trusts are making millions of pounds a year from car parking fees, a freedom of information request has revealed.
According to the Daily Mail, the charges are netting some hospital trusts nearly £4 million a year. The highest earner is the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust in Birmingham, which made £3.99 million, followed by the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, with £3.67 million.
Last October, data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) established that the average parking charge per hour was £1.15. Now, though, trusts such as the Wye Valley NHS Trust Hereford are charging as much as £3.50 per hour.
While most hospitals are served reasonably well by public transport, many are not - and patients are frequently too ill to use buses anyway, says Macmillan Cancer Support, which has been campaigning on the issue. While government guidance says hospitals should offer free or, at the very least, reduced price parking to patients who make regular visits to hospital, many have failed to do so, it says. Others have failed to tell patients about the concessions that are available.
Staff sometimes have to pay even more than patients, with Whittington Hospital NHS Trust, for example, charging an average £3 per hour for patients and visitors - but £4 for staff.
Whittington Hospital NHS Trust, for example, charges £3 on average per hour for patients and visitors - but charges staff on average £4 per hour. Indeed, fees for top doctors at Shropshire's two hospitals recently doubled to £25 per month.
"I have heard it described as a stealth tax to go to work," Gerry O'Dwyer, senior employment relations adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, told the Daily Mail.
"Staff may finish late at night or early in the morning and they may not feel comfortable using public transport at this time, so they do need their cars."
The government is aware of the problem. Health minister Norman Lamb has said he will consider inserting a clause in the standard NHS contract to end "profiteering" by hospitals and forcing them to inform regular patients about concessions.