The Southern Health Trust, which covers the Dungannon area, is reaping millions from its car parks.
A total of £2.76million has been raked in by the trust over the past five years in car park fees, including some £605,726 this year, a rise of 37 percent from the 2010 total.
According to advice on the trust’s website, Craigavon Hospital charges for the use of four of its car parks, with rates comparable to that of busy town centre parking facilities.
Visitors and patients must pay £1.20 for up to one hour, and a further sixty pence per hour thereafter.
Disabled car park spaces are available in various locations on the hospital site, close to the main entrance. There is also a ‘drop off zone’ where a car or taxi can stop.
Patients with specific conditions, who are required to attend the hospital on a regular basis, are also entitled to free parking on site during their period of treatment, the website states.
Free car parking can be issued to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria.
Among Northern Ireland’s five health trusts, the top earner last year was the South Eastern Trust, which made almost £6m from its car parks.
Alarmingly, £1,761,631 was paid to private contractors for car parks, including £1,617,084 by the Belfast Trust.
Its car park at the Royal Victoria Hospital is operated by Car Park Services Limited and charges up to £5 a day.
The figures were disclosed by Health Minister Simon Hamilton following an Assembly question from SDLP MLA Fearghal McKinney.
Mr McKinney, who sits on the Assembly’s health committee, called for a reassessment of fees paid to all private contractors.
The spending was released on the day it emerged chief executive Michael McBride has warned that savings of up to £30m need to be made this year.
Separately, hospitals’ own car parks raked in some £16.3m in the same five-year period.
The Patient and Client Council has expressed concern at the charges.
Its chief executive Maeve Hully said: “For some people attending hospital can be stressful enough, without the added challenges of finding a parking space and thinking about having the right change to pay as well.
“Sometimes people are paying for longer than they need to, or staying longer than they expected and having to run back to their cars to put extra money in the meter.
“There are variations in hospital car parking charges and the availability of parking discounts across Northern Ireland, and many of the people we speak to say where charges are made, they are often considered too high.”
Wales and Scotland have largely abolished hospital car parking charges.
However, charging is commonplace in England and the Republic of Ireland.
A Southern Trust spokesperson said that car park charges ensured money was not diverted from patient services.
“Income generated from car parking charges is used to pay for the significant costs associated with the maintenance and security of hospital car parks (e.g. barrier maintenance / repairs, tickets, CCTV).
“Without this income, funding currently used to pay for the care and treatment of patients would have to be diverted to pay to keep car parks operational.
“Some of the income is also used to improve car-parking infrastructure and to provide additional spaces for patients, visitors and staff. Car parking charges within the Trust operate under a Department of Health Policy, therefore the Trust does not have the discretion to remove parking charges or take any other action regarding charges unless stated in the policy.”