A hospital trust has raked close to £5million from patients and drivers visiting sick relatives through car park charges.

Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospital Trust (BHRUT) collected £1.712,000 through charging patients and visitors to use its car parks last year.

The figure was up more than £250,000 on the sum it earned through car park charges in the 2013/14 financial year.

However, the trust’s earnings from the scheme peaked in 2015/16, when hospital users ran up a collective bill of £1,726,000.

Richard Smith, BHRUT car parking manager, said: “We understand that paying for car parking is the last thing our patients want to think about when coming to our hospitals, so we work hard to keep costs as low as we can.

“We offer free parking to our cancer patients when coming in for treatment, there is no charge to park for the first 48 hours for our maternity patients and we also offer free parking to long-stay patients in our hospitals.

“We also provide free parking for parents with children in our hospitals, and free visitor parking for the families of patients in intensive care.

“The majority of our car parks are run by our partner, Sodexo. Any income to our Trust is used to fund patient care across our hospitals.”

The trust said inpatients are entitled to a week’s free parking, before the following week of their stay costs £5 per day. The remainder of their stay would be free.

Those rushing to BHRUT hospitals in an emergency when a patient is close to death are also exempt from parking charges.

A series of Freedom of Information requests to 111 hospital trusts across England revealed patients, visitors and staff paid a total of £174m to use NHS car parks last year.

Hospital car park charges have been branded a “tax on sickness” by the Liberal Democrats, while Labour has claimed it would end such charges.

The Department of Health says charges are a matter for hospitals to decide locally, while trusts across the country have claimed they need the money in order to reinvest it into care.

Car parking at hospitals in Scotland and Wales is largely free.

Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, which caters to many residents living in the Epping Forest area, also collected a total of almost £1m in car park fees last year, up from £790,000 the year previous.

No figures were available for Barts Health Trust, which runs Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone.