PATIENTS and visitors are being hit in the pocket over hospital parking charges as new figures reveal the amounts NHS Trusts are raking in.

Hospitals in the region made £12.2m from parking revenue in the last financial year – up from £11.9m the previous year, according to figures obtained via Freedom of Information requests by the Press Association

The County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust raised £747,905 in 2016/17, a rise of more than £21,000 over the previous 12 months.

It also saw a significant leap in the amount raised from parking fines, up from £1,551 in 2015/16 to £5,356.

The Trust introduced charges for blue badge holders at Darlington Memorial Hospital last year, and nationally half of NHS trusts now charge disabled people for parking in some or all of their disabled spaces.

In the last two years City of Sunderland Hospitals saw a £215,000 increase in parking revenue, making £2,060,000 in 2016/17, while the York Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust almost tripled the amount made through fines.

In 2015/16 it raised £3,501, compared to £10,276 in the last financial year.

A spokesperson for York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “The revenue from car parking funds the running and maintenance of the car park, and also pays for security on the site. Income from car park charges is also invested in improving car park facilities and alternatives to car use.

“In line with national guidance, there are a large number of concessions available for people who are visiting regularly or for long periods of time.”

Meanwhile, South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which includes James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, and the Friarage in Northallerton, saw a fall in parking revenue in the last two years.

It raised £2,720,650 in 2016/17 compared to £2,987,458 in 2015/16.

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said if people must pay for hospital parking then the balance needs to be right.

She said: “I think that charging needs to be fair on patients and visitors and I think that these amounts do raise questions about the policies and aggressive enforcement.

“I know that the charges (at Darlington Memorial Hospital) are quite steep.

“It is a few pounds every time you go and you can often be very stressed and in a rush and worried about the time or anxious to make your appointment or concerned about a relative.

“I have seen people put more money in just because they are so stressed out when they are feeding the machine.

“I think it needs to be fair and I am not sure that the balance is right.”

Gordon Pybus, chair of Darlington Association on Disability, spoke out when the County Durham and Darlington Trust introduced blue badge charges at the Memorial Hospital last year and said it penalises visitors and patients who have no choice but to use their car.

He said: “Other people could possibly use the bus but they choose to take the car because of the convenience.

“Free blue badge parking was introduced because people with mobility issues don’t have that choice.”

James Towie, 20, of Darlington, who was visiting the Memorial yesterday to have an injury examined felt patients should not be charged for parking as the visit is a necessity.

"I think it’s especially not right that disabled people should have to pay for parking because they’re the most vulnerable out of everyone.

“The amount the hospital are fining patients is ridiculous, it’s such a large amount of money that just keeps going up every year when all people want is to be treated.”

Another visitor to the Memorial Daniel Wilcock, 22, said he did not believe disabled people should be charged but appreciated the need for fines as those breaching the rules would expect to be penalised in any other controlled car park.

He added: “A lot of people park on the housing estates around the area so if you were really struggling financially you could just park there, but it’s much handier being in the car park because its closer.”

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said he has helped constituents resolve hospital parking fines imposed by third party companies and said the NHS should not have to rely on parking charges to boost revenue.

“I understand why the hospitals do it, they have seen huge reductions in their budget and they top up some of that money from parking charges and I well understand that.

“But people are often visiting unwell relatives and it can cost a fortune over a week so I do have sympathy for them.

“The health service needs to be adequately funded by the government and shouldn’t have to rely on parking charges so that people can visit their loved ones without worrying about charges and fines, particularly when they are stressed.”

The Press Association figures reveal that NHS hospitals nationally made a record £174 million in the last year from car park charging, up six per cent on the year before.

NHS Trusts have defended the implementation of parking charges, saying that the money is re-invested to support services and enable improvements to patient care.

Speaking in 2016 when the blue badge charges were introduced at Darlington Memorial Hospital, the Trust's director of estates and facilities said it was operating in a challenging financial environment and parking charges helped to protect frontline services and staffing.

A list of NHS trusts across the North-East and North Yorkshire that responded to the Freedom of Information request, with details of parking income from patients/visitors/staff, plus income from fines, and whether they charge for disabled parking

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

£1,484,632 in 2016/17

£1,325,945 in 2015/16

£1,325,945 in 2013/14

Disabled? No

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

£2,720,650 in 2016/17

£2,987,458 in 2015/16

£1,641,550 in 2013/14

Disabled? No

South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust

£608,140 in 2016/17 (£224,377 staff, £383,763 visitors/patients)

£508,897 in 2015/16 (£162,306 staff, £346,591 visitors/patients)

£397,910 in 2013/14 (£167,793 staff, £230,117 visitors/patients)

Disabled? No

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust

£747,905 in 2016/17

£726,678 in 2015/16

Parking fines: £5,356 in 2016/17, £1,551 in 2015/16

Disabled? Yes

City Hospitals Sunderland

£2,060,000 in 2016/17

£1,845,000 in 2016/17

Disabled? No

York Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

£1,965,000 in 2016/17

£1,940,000 in 2015/16

£1,913,000 in 2013/14

Parking fines: £10,276 in 2016/17, £3,501 in 2015/16

Disabled? No

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

£58,975 in 2016/17

£64,555 in 2015/16

£85,715 in 2013/14

Fines: £23,560 in 2016/17, £22,660 in 2015/16

Disabled? No

Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

£767,300 in 2016/17

£725,300 in 2015/16

£621,300 in 2013/14

Disabled? No

University Hospital of North Tees

£1,812,329 in 2016/17

£1,785,970 in 2015/16

£1,710,042 in 2013/14

Disabled? Yes