The cost of parking at Blackpool Victoria Hospital has rocketed by an average of almost 55 per cent.
Visitors to the hospital, in Whinney Heys Road, have been left shocked by the hike, which has seen the minimum fee rise from £1.40 to £2.50.
Nevertheless, these increases are extremely steep, particularly the shorter time periods at just under 80 per cent for up to two hours
The income will be used to pay off £11 million owed for the building of a multi-storey car park opened at the hospital in 2014, it was previously revealed.
Health bosses said the charges remain comparative to other hospitals, and that concessions remain available for some visitors and patients.
But critics have accused them of ‘milking the sick and distressed’ and have slammed the rise.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “We all know hospital trusts are under extreme pressure at the moment and my belief is the government bears considerable responsibility for that.
“Nevertheless, these increases are extremely steep, particularly the shorter time periods at just under 80 per cent for up to two hours, and I would be extremely interested to know how widely the chief executive and her officers consulted before making this decision.”
The new charges are as follows:
• £2.50 for up to two hours, up from £1.40;
• £3 for between two and three hours, up from £1.90;
• £4 for between three and six hours, up from £2.30; and
• £6 for between six and 24 hours, up from £5.50.
At Preston and Chorley hospitals, parking is free for 30 minutes, then charged at £3 per day, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals said.
Weekly permits are sold at £10 and there are a range of exemptions.
One man, who contacted The Gazette after visiting his relative in Victoria hospital and noticing the increase, said: “I was disgusted to find the parking charge had gone up overnight.
“Can they really justify this or is it simply greed?”
A spokesman for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are very proud of the excellent car parking facilities we offer, following the opening of the £11m multi-storey car park in 2014.
“Patients and visitors are able to park and access the hospital with ease and without the added stress of having to wait for a car parking space.”
Cash for the new car park, which provided around 1,120 extra spaces, was borrowed from the Department of Health several years ago to meet a long-standing demand for more spaces.
Health bosses had also voiced their hope the boost in facilities, which also included a new main entrance with WHSmith, Costa, and pharmacy, would help attract top doctors.
Parking concessions are available, including £3 per day parking for parents of child patients for the first two weeks of their stay and free afterwards, free parking for haematology or oncology patients undergoing regular treatment or attending appointments, free parking for carers or relatives of patients who have been in hospital for more than two weeks, and free disabled parking.
Patients on benefits may also be able to claim their money back through the NHS Healthcare Travel Costs scheme.
Relatives of gravely ill patients must be given free or cheap hospital parking, along with patients with disabilities, those with frequent appointments, and staff working shifts, according to government guidelines issued to English hospitals two years ago.
At the time, Vic chiefs pledged to continue their concessionary scheme, although the price for poorly children’s parents has since increased to £3 per day from £1.80.
On its website, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the concessions are at the discretion of ward managers, and said it ‘appreciates the cost of parking may cause concern for some patients and visitors’.
Those eligible should contact the ward manager or nurse in charge, who will provide a form to be handed in at the car parking office, where they can then get a concessionary permit.
Chris Maher (pictured), 61, whose partner died at the hospital eight years ago, said he spent hundreds of pounds on parking in six weeks and didn’t realise he qualified for a concessionary pass.
He described the hospital’s doctors and nurses as ‘first class’ but said: “Nobody suggested to me I could have asked for a voucher and they never returned any of my money.
“Car parking charges should not be what they are. They are charging vulnerable people and it’s wrong. Many can’t afford it.”
The Trust revealed the increases in a press release posted on its website but, unlike other stories in the same news section, did not send it to The Gazette or any other media.
Posters were put up in the car park prior to the increase, on May 3, and independent group Healthwatch, and patients’ groups were also informed, the Trust claimed.
Mr Marsden added: “Their communication has been poor and I would like to know what the comparative figures are.
“A lot of people, particularly in Blackpool when a lot of people have very, very modest incomes but have to have a vehicle for a variety of reasons, will feel hit by this.”
The increase was also criticised by social media users.
Writing on Twitter, @elephantthinking said: “Ahhh, milking the sick and distressed. What a wonderful society we live in.”
Jay Taylor, on Facebook, said: “We pay our taxes yet then have to pay again to park our cars to obtain care. Greed.”
David Shayman Thompson added: “Shouldn’t have to pay for parking at hospitals full stop.
“What a cruel world we live in. Everything has to come down to money.”
And Marlene O’Hara said: “Disgusting. People who go to hospital don’t need this added burden.
“They sometimes need to go more than once, and you can be there five hours or more.”
Sarah Beechey said she paid a total of £140 to visit her mum, who had open surgery and suffered complications.
She added: “She was in for four weeks and I visited afternoons and evenings. How can people be expected to pay that, on top of the price it costs patients to hire the TV next to the bed?
“It is just milking money from the vulnerable.”
Charging for parking at hospitals has proven to be a political hot potato in recent years, with Labour accusing the previous Coalition government of scrapping plans to ban the fees.
Instead, guidelines were issued, leading to concessionary charges at trusts across the country, though parking policies are still set by individual NHS trusts.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged to take action against ‘rip-off charges’ after facing pressure from Tory backbenchers.
He said: “Patients and families shouldn’t have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges.
“These clear ground rules set out our expectations, and will help the public hold the NHS to account for unfair charges or practices.”
The Department of Health guidance, updated in October last year, says trusts should consider ‘pay-on-exit’ schemes so drivers only pay for the time they have used, which the new multi-storey car park features.
Trusts should make sure the charges are ‘well publicised’, it added, and they are responsible for the actions of private contractors.
If a visitor or patient overstays through no fault of their own – if treatment took longer than planned, for example, or when staff have to work beyond their scheduled shift – then trusts are expected to waive any fines, it added.