NHS hospitals made a record £174 million in the last year from charging patients, visitors and staff for car parking, an investigation has found.

Hospitals across England took £174,526,970 in parking charges in 2016/17, up 6 per cent on the year before, according to data collected by the Press Association.

Some 120 NHS trusts across England were asked to give figures on parking charges and fines under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, of which 111 responded.

Raking in the most was Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, based around Birmingham, with £4,865,000 across the year. 

Around two-thirds of trusts that responded to the FOI are making more than £1 million in car park fees every year, with some also handing hundreds of thousands of pounds to private firms to run their car parks.

But how much did Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust make? 

In 2016/17, £338,803 was made, £312,764 in 2015/16 and £273,631 in 2013/14. 

The multistorey car park at the hospital is managed by private company Q Park since its opening in October 2016. It houses 736 spaces for patients, staff and visitors. 

The £338,803 covers the multi-storey car park and other smaller car parks – such as Duchess 1 and Duchess 2, which are found to the right and left before you get to the multistorey car park.

The only car parking spaces it doesn’t cover are a few near to the Beacon Centre.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the current state of NHS finances meant it was sometimes hard to blame hospitals for trying to find money.

But she said that did not make the current situation acceptable.

She added: "For patients, parking charges amount to an extra charge for being ill.

"The increase in the number of trusts who are charging for disabled parking is particularly concerning.

"Patients who require disabled parking may have little choice but to access their care by car, and may need to do so often. Targeting them in this way feels rather cynical.

"The increase in parking fines is also worrying.

"Hospital appointments are often delayed or last longer than expected, so even if you pay for parking you could end up being fined if your ticket runs out."

Lucy Schonegevel, public affairs manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Frequent trips to the hospital are unavoidable when you've been diagnosed with cancer, or caring for someone who has.

"People are having to travel to receive life-saving treatment and public transport isn't always an option.

"Vulnerable people, such as those living with cancer, shouldn't have to bear the financial burden of extortionate car parking fees.

"We feel more needs to be done by hospital trusts in England to follow the guidance set by the Department of Health and provide concessionary parking for cancer patients and their carers, including free and reduced parking charges or caps."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Patients and families should not have to deal with the added stress of complex and unfair parking charges.

"NHS organisations are locally responsible for the methods used to charge, and we want to see them coming up with flexible options that put patients and their families first."