HEALTH chiefs who run Winchester's hospital raked in more than £1.25million through parking last year, new figures have revealed.

The Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT) saw its income through parking at its hospitals soar by £224,409 in 2016/17, an increase of nearly 22%.

The figures follow a drop in 2015/16 with £1,026,846 being generated, compared with £1,157,227 the previous year.

However, bosses at HHFT, which is responsible for the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, as well as the Andover War Memorial Hospital and the North Hampshire Hospital in Basingstoke, say the money was either used in maintaining the car parks or was invested in the trust's care services.

The figures were disclosed as part of an investigation by the Press Association, which also revealed that NHS hospitals made a record £174 million in the last year from charging patients, visitors and staff for car parking – a rise of 6% of the previous year.

Nearby University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust saw a slightly smaller increase in parking revenue of around £20,000, but raised £3.7m – one of the highest figures in the country. The trust also charges disabled drivers for parking, unlike HHFT.

Criticising the figures, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "Hospital parking charges are an entirely unfair and unnecessary burden, which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people using our health service.

"Even Jeremy Hunt has described this outrageous practice as a 'stealth tax', and yet Tory underfunding of our NHS has resulted in hospitals and private companies extracting record fees from patients and staff."

Nationally, the Liberal Democrats have branded the charges as a "tax on sickness", but Lib Dem Winchester city councillor Martin Tod said: "Whatever the picture might be nationally, if there's any spare money locally, the priority should be on care, such as cutting A&E waiting times, investment in social care and funding more GP appointments.

"Because of Conservative decisions on health and care funding, local NHS staff and budgets remain under tremendous pressure. Free parking would be great if there was a way of making sure the car park didn't fill up with commuters and it was genuinely patients, relatives and staff that got to use it, but given the huge savings that our local hospitals are being challenged to deliver, spending on care has to come first."

HHFT chief executive Alex Whitfield added: “The money raised from parking charges across the trust is invested in maintaining the car parks and making it as easy as possible for patients and visitors to park. Any surplus funds are reinvested in the trust, helping us to provide the best possible care for our patients.

“We regularly review our parking charges and recently introduced a new tariff, which includes a free period of up to 30 minutes for drivers dropping patients off for appointments.

“Free parking is also available for certain patients, visitors and carers at all three of our hospitals. These include patients attending for chemotherapy, visitors to patients in intensive care or our neonatal units and carers staying overnight with children.”