HOSPITALS made more than £254 million from parking in the last year and one in three increased their charges, according to a new study.

The report, by the PA news agency, surveyed 7,883 people who had used a hospital car park in the last two years and financial data was gathered from 144 NHS trusts.

This data showed that hospitals made £254,373,068 from charging for parking in 2018/19 - up ten percent on the previous year and a record high.

Overall, 47 NHS trusts increased their parking charges between 2017 and 2019, typically by ten percent.

The survey revealed that patients and visitors often struggle to find spaces, experience a lack of disabled parking, long queues and parking meters that do not work.

And in a table of the most expensive hospitals for parking, the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust came top at £4 an hour, although a trust spokesman said that was not the full picture.

He said: "We have two car parks at the University Hospital of North Tees and one car park at the University Hospital of Hartlepool; the visitor car parks on both sites are free for 20 minutes before charges apply.

"In addition, for visitors making recurring visits there is a seven day multiple visit permit costing just £7 which can be used across the two sites."

He added: "There is an additional car park for the University Hospital of North Tees located on Hardwick Road which is also free for the first 20 minutes and then costs £2 for a stay of up to 14 hours.

"The hospital sites are on local bus routes, and are accessible by foot or cycle."

In the PA study, 86 percent of those polled nationally said parking added to the stress of a hospital visit.

Some participants described the charges as "a rip-off", "too expensive", "extortionate", "astronomical" and "exorbitant".

And almost one in five people who received a parking fine said it was because their appointment overran or for some other reason beyond their control.

Only England's hospitals routinely charge for parking - it is largely free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A spokeswoman for the Patients Association said: "Charges for car parking at hospitals are a charge on people who are unwell, levied on them because they are unwell.

"We believe that patients should not be effectively charged for being ill."

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said increases in the cost of parking were frustrating, but added: "Car parks are expensive to run for the trusts that own them.

"These parking facilities must be maintained, lit well, and secure."