BOSSES at a North-East hospital trust have defended its car parking fees after it was revealed it is making a cool £2m a year.

An investigation by a national newspaper found that NHS hospitals are making millions of pounds out of patients and visitors every year.

In the last financial year the top earner was the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust in Birmingham, which made £3.9m.

But the West Midlands hospital was just one of 11 making more than £2m a year out of car parking charges.

Among them was the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the 1,000-bed James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

Out of the 153 NHS hospital trusts which replied to requests for information a total of 46 trusts collected more than £1m.

To add to the annoyance of hospital visitors in England, some hospitals in Scotland and Wales are now offering free parking.

The charity Macmillan Cancer Support has also called for hospital charges to be scrapped or reduced for cancer patients.

In a lengthy statement a spokeswoman for the South Tees Trust said: “We do have special car parking permits - at much discounted rates – to try and reduce the financial burden for patients and visitors who have to regularly attend the hospital.

“These are advertised on the trust’s website, across wards and departments and on car parking pay stations and through staff we have also reinforced the importance of ensuring long-term patients and their visitors are fully aware of this scheme.

“At £9.70 for a monthly ticket we think this does a great deal to ensure that regular users are not burdened with high costs.

She said the trust is also a regional centre for certain specialities.

“The charges allow the trust to invest in much needed improvements to car parking and access to the James Cook University Hospital site. Work will start shortly to provide 525 additional staff and visitor spaces, including more spaces for blue badge holders and a link road,” she added.

“In addition to paying for construction of the car parks, the trust is making a contribution to the construction of the road.”

Car parking at the South Tees Trust is free for the first 15 minutes and then increases in stages to reach the maximum charge of £5.70 for four to 24 hours.