THE health trust that runs the Countess of Chester Hospital made £1.39 million by making patients and their families pay for parking on its sites last year.

Latest statistics reveal the figure is slightly down year-on-year, with £1.4 million collected in 2015/16. In 2013/14 the trust made £1.34 million from parking charges.

It has also emerged that parking fines netted the organisation £5,679 in 2016/17 and £3,126 in 2015/16.

Nationally, many trusts have come under fire for making more money than ever out of parking charges.

Hospitals in England collected more than £120 million last year, which is an increase of five per cent year-on-year.

Critics say sick people and their relatives should not have to bear the burden of cuts to the health service.

But many trusts have defended the charges, saying the money was put back into patient care or maintaining car parks.

No one at the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has yet been available for comment although its figures are far from the highest.

The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, which covers Birmingham and the West Midlands, made the most out of parking with £4.8 million collected in 2016/17.

Closer to home, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust made £3.3 million last year while Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool netted £2.7 million.

Hospital car parking fees were abolished in Scotland and Wales in 2008, although a small number still charge as they are signed up to private contracts to manage their parking facilities.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the latest statistics showed the “shocking reality” faced by patients.

“This is not what car parking charges should be used for,” she 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 spokesman for the Department of Health said it expected hospitals to follow guidelines and put concessions in place for those who need the most help - including disabled people, carers and staff who work shifts.

She added: “Patients and families shouldn't have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges.”

But Labour's shadow community health minister Julie Cooper said the government needed to take action.

“Raising car parking charges has a knock-on effect on patients, carers and family members who have no choice but to pay," she said.

“The current situation is wholly unfair and will only cause more stress for patients, families and carers.

“The government urgently needs to address this situation and take steps to cap the amount hospitals can charge for car parking fees.”

The Countess of Chester's trust trust runs the 600-bed district hospital on Liverpool Road in the city as well as the 64-bed intermediate care service at Ellesmere Port Hospital.

It has almost 4,000 staff and provides a range of medical services to more than 445,000 patients per year. The trust needs around £210 million each year to run its sites.

Budget cuts from central government have meant chiefs have had to make almost £10.6 million in savings in 2016/17 in order to meet their financial plan and deliver a deficit of £3.6 million by the end of the year.