Sheffield residents are calling for widespread changes to hospital parking charges after the city's NHS trust raked in more than £3m last year from patients, staff and visitors.
Members of the public urged health chiefs to consider making it free to park at city hospitals after new figures revealed Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was one of the country's top earners from parking fees after raking in £3, 073, 222 in 2016/17.
The call for change comes as a number of high profile figures, including Sheffield Hallam University chancellor lord professor Robert Winston, branded the parking charges as unfair and called for it to be axed.
The trust has hit back at the claims and stressed that money is put back into improving services.
But people who use the trust's main sites at the Northern General, Hallamshire and Jessop Wing and Weston Park hospitals highlighted a number of concerns over 'extortionate' fees, lack of spaces and problems with using the pay machines.
Cancer patient Terry Gee, aged 74, of Barnsley, said: "It is morally wrong to charge patients. It is extortionate and should be a nominal fee at the most. The machines also don't give out change, I've just had to pay £3 for a £2.50 charge."
Barry and Janice Lines, of Sheffield, said there are not enough spaces at the Hallamshire.
Barry, aged 61, said: "The fees are too high, it should be free, and you sometimes struggle to find a space."
Janice, aged 59, added: "Members of staff have to pay for an annual pass and then there is no guarantee they will get a parking spot."
Barry and Lee Allsevrook, of Barnsley, called for free parking in an 'ideal world' but added they could see why hospital bosses impose charges.
Barry, aged 46, said: "If you don't charge then people might abuse it by parking for free and then go off somewhere else away from the hospital."
Michael Constantine, aged 62, said he felt the charges were "reasonable" but added more spaces are needed at Northern General Hospital.
In addition, hundreds of Star readers took to Facebook to vent their frustration over the charges.
Katie Harrison said she underwent a pre-operation assessment and was made to pay £8.40 to park for four hours. She added: "Surely it could be half that price."
A member of staff who works at Northern General Hospital explained that she has to pay up to £100 a month just to park and called for it to be free.
Alan Copeland branded the charges "morally despicable" and made the point: "Go to the cinema and get free parking, visit someone in hospital when neither of you ideally want be there and pay for the privilege."
Penelope Curbishley-Clay called the situation "disgraceful" after there were no spaces when she went for a maternity appointment and to visit a loved one with cancer.
She posted: "If motorists are going to be charged then as a taxpayer there should be an option to claim it back as staff or patient."
Paul Cryer said he understood 'commercial challenges' that the trust faces but added it simply 'doesn't feel right' to charge visitors.
In addition, Prof Winston, chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University since 2001, admitted he has in the past refused to pay parking fees.
He said: "They [the fines] do make me so furious. While it might be a good idea to abolish parking charges there could be those who abuse it.
"I am in favour of parking being free for patients and their families. With staff it depends on the site of the hospital and the access to public transport."
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb branded the charges a "tax on sickness."
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "For patients, parking charges amount to an extra charge for being ill."
It costs £8.40 to park for over four hours at the Hallamshire and Weston Park, while it is £3.70 for more than four hours at the Northern General.
Elsewhere in South Yorkshire, Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust raised over £956, 000, in Barnsley it was just over £1.3m and Rotherham collected more than £912, 000.
The data was revealed as part of a wider Freedom of Information request which showed NHS hospitals nationally made a record £174.5 million.
South Yorkshire hospital chiefs have defended the policy and stressed that income is reinvested into services and there are a number of concessionary schemes available.
Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust last year signed a five year contract for private company Indigo to deliver its parking management function including cash collection, parking enforcement and equipment maintenance.
Kevin O’ Regan, director of hotel services at Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have two million visitors to the Trust’s five hospitals each year and almost 4000 car parking spaces that are used several times a day by patients, visitors and staff.
"The figures quoted are not profit, it is the income we receive. As the UK’s second largest Trust we have significantly more car parking spaces than most and so our income in comparison will always appear higher than most NHS hospitals.
"Once maintenance and new development costs are covered, any surplus income we receive is always reinvested in services here in Sheffield.
"We provide free parking for disabled patients with a blue badge and have a number of concessions in place. We also have free drop off zones for accident and emergency patients and women in labour.”
Indigo did not reply to our request for comment.