CAR PARKING charges at hospitals are one of those stories that come around every year, and this new year we learn that North East hospitals raked in £7m in 2023.

The Liberal Democrats say that, understandably, this is a tax on the unwell and their families and on those who care enough to visit sick people in hospital.

However, it is noticeable that in recent months the NHS has begun issuing free parking to quite a number of patients with long term needs – there is a long list of conditions, from cancer to having a partner in childbirth, which qualify for free parking on hospital websites. The NHS does seem to have moved to quell the criticism that it is taxing the sick.

One of the biggest problems with visiting one of our hospitals – Darlington, Durham, Bishop Auckland, Northallerton – is actually finding a parking space. It must cost the NHS in terms of people either being late or missing appointments completely because they could not find a space, and it must be a real nuisance to those who live in the streets around our hospitals which require permit systems just so they can park outside their own homes.

The LibDems’ figures show that most of our trusts are earning at least £1m a year in parking fees and yet none of this seems to be spent on solutions to parking problems – the parking provision at Darlington Memorial, for instance, hasn’t increased much in 20 or 30 years even as the hospital has become busier.

So where does the revenue from parking charges end up? Surely the NHS is not in such a desperate financial position that it is only parking fees that are keeping our hospitals afloat?