NHS hospitals are making more money than ever from car park charges, with more than half charging disabled visitors and making thousands every year in fines, an investigation has found.
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Hospitals across England made more than £120 million from charging patients, staff and visitors for parking in the last year, up 5% on the year before and rising year on year, according to data collected by the Press Association.
Some 120 NHS trusts across England were asked to give figures on parking charges and fines under the Freedom of Information Act, with 89 providing responses.
Overall, NHS trusts netted £120,662,650 in 2015/16 in car park charges, up from £114,873,867 the year before, the study found.
Some 27 trusts provided data on parking fines, showing they made £2,300,208 in fines over a four year period. In 2015/16 alone, £635,387 was made from fining patients, visitors and staff on hospital grounds.
The investigation also found that almost half of all NHS trusts charge disabled people for parking in some or all of their disabled spaces.
The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust came out top when it came to parking income, making £4,841,108 across the year. This included £3,465,357 from patients and visitors and £1,375,751 from staff. Almost £40,000 was collected by the trust in car park fines.
More than half of trusts who responded to the FOI request are making more than £1 million in car park fees every year, with some also handing money to private firms.
In London, London North West Healthcare NHS Trust made £968,170 in car park charges, but a further £1,262,194 was kept by the private firm Apcoa under a private finance initiative (PFI) contract.
The trust made £28,449 from car parking fines and the private firm kept a further £25,990 in fines in 2015/16. Over four years, Apcoa has kept £167,357 in fines under the terms of the PFI contract.
Many trusts defended their revenues, saying some or all of the money was put back into patient care or was spent on maintaining car parks or grounds.
Others claimed their sheer size and the fact that they served busy neighbourhoods meant they took more in revenue.
The total amount raised by NHS trusts is likely to be higher. Some large trusts, such as Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Royal Surrey, failed to provide figures for 2015/16. In 2014/15, Oxford raised £3,728,000, while Royal Surrey made £1,421,172.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said it was unfair that hospital parking in Wales and Scotland was largely free but that patients in England were still forced to pay.
She added: "The shocking reality about car parking charges is that they are taking money from the sick and vulnerable to top up NHS coffers.
"This is not what car parking charges should be used for.
"The NHS is clearly underfunded, but the onus on meeting the funding crisis should most certainly not be shouldered by the sick, injured and vulnerable.
"We are not talking about insignificant amounts of money, either. It is alarming that trusts think it is okay to charge people so much money for visiting a hospital, as it makes patients question the values of the people leading the organisation.
"We take a very clear line that car parking fees need to be scrapped or strictly capped."
Ms Murphy said it was important that drivers parked sensibly but said fines were a burden on the sick.
She added: "It is not right that fines should be so heavy handed on sick and disabled patients."
Shadow community health minister Julie Cooper said: "These new figures reinforce the worrying trend that hospitals across England are increasing hospital car parking charges and making record amounts of money.
"Raising car parking charges has a knock on effect on patients, carers and family members who have no choice but to pay.
"The current situation is wholly unfair and will only cause more stress for patients, families and carers.
"Hospitals cannot justify increasing car parking charges nor can half of all NHS trusts justify charging disabled people for parking.
"The Government urgently needs to address this situation and take steps to cap the amount hospitals can charge for car parking fees."
Rosie Downes, campaigns manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "The last thing that somebody going through cancer treatment should be doing is worrying about whether there is enough money in the parking meter.
"Cancer can have a huge impact on someone's finances, and paying for hours of parking at hospital each week is a completely unacceptable expense at such a hard time.
"Government guidance is very clear that cancer patients in England should not continue to pay unfair hospital parking charges.
"Hospitals must start adopting these guidelines as a matter of urgency."
In October, a Press Association investigation revealed that a third of hospital trusts in England had increased their car parking charges in the last year.
The most expensive trust in the country for a one-hour stay was the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, where patients are forced to pay £4 for any stay up to two hours. It does have a few bays where people can park for 20 minutes before being charged.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Patients and families shouldn't have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges - we expect all NHS organisations to follow our guidelines and put concessions in place for those who most need help, including disabled people, carers and staff who work shifts."