HOSPITAL chiefs in Bradford have been accused of using their car parks as “cash cows”.

The accusation has been levelled at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust after it has emerged that nearly £1 million was raised through charges in the 12 months since controversial price hikes were introduced.

The Trust raked in an extra £165,838 in the 12 months since charges went up at Bradford Royal Infirmary and St Luke’s Hospital when compared to the previous 12 months, the Telegraph & Argus can reveal.

One senior councillor branded the figures a “disgrace”, while a patients’ watchdog said parking charges added further “stress and anxiety for people at a difficult time”.

But Bradford Hospitals has insisted the income from parking charges was not profit and went towards maintenance and improvement of car parking saving money for patient care.

In August 2015, its parking charges rose from a fixed £2 fee for up to three hours, to £2.50 for up to two hours, £3.50 for up to three hours, £4.50 for up to four hours, £5.50 for up to five hours and £8 for five to ten hours.

A previous three to 24-hour stay costing visitors and patients £5 was scrapped, which pushed the cost of a 24-hour visit up to £20.50 - a hike of 310 per cent.

In the 12 months leading up to those changes, charges at BRI totalled £586,012 and at St Luke’s £190,736.

After the increases income increased to £712,432 at BRI and £230,154 at St Luke’s, producing a total of £942,586.

Councillor Vanda Greenwood, chairman of Bradford Council’s health and social care overview and scrutiny committee, said: “I accept hospitals have to charge people to park and that they are desperate for money to look after their car parks instead of taking funds away from patient care but it’s a disgrace they have to get money from the people of Bradford to cover those costs.

“It should be the responsibility of the Government.”

Victoria Simmons, manager of patients’ watchdog Healthwatch Bradford and District, said: “The cost and difficulty of parking is something that lots of people raise with Healthwatch.

“This adds stress and anxiety for people at a difficult time.

“People have often told us about driving round looking for spaces and being late for appointments, or having to leave the bedside of sick relatives to go back and top up their parking because they are worried about getting a ticket or being clamped.

“We know that Bradford Teaching Hospitals is also looking at ways of improving parking at its hospitals.

“The public will want to be assured that money from parking charges is being invested into improving parking for visitors, patients and staff.”

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Authorities must be sensitive to the plight of hard-pressed families who are already struggling with rising tax bills.

“Trusts cannot treat patients and those visiting poorly friends and relatives as cash cows and they also cannot depend on such an unpredictable source of income to fund essential services. Authorities must be mindful of the extra burden their decisions place on those visiting hospitals and keep the charges at a reasonable level.”

And Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “The NHS is clearly underfunded, but the onus on meeting the funding crisis should most certainly not be shouldered by the sick, injured and vulnerable.”

A Bradford Hospitals Trust spokesman stressed parking charges income went towards the maintenance and improvement of car parks, including lighting and CCTV, which saves money for patient care.

The spokesman said there were no plans to put up prices even further.

“We use the money to purchase land, provide security, including regular care and facilities for patients and visitors.

“For example, the Trust has invested in the new accessible rear entrance and new disabled car parking facilities which are being constructed as part of the new hospital wing.”