PARKING charges at hospitals in Cheshire are among the highest in the country for an hour-long stay, new data has revealed.

A Freedom of Information request submitted to all NHS trusts across the country has revealed that 53 have increased charges in the past year.

At £3 to park for between 25 minutes and four hours – a rate it says has been frozen since 2008 – Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Trust offers the joint-sixth most expensive one-hour stay in the country.

The trust, which runs Victoria Infirmary, Elmhurst Care Centre and Leighton Hospital says that, along with others across the country, it is facing financial pressure and parking charges help ringfence patient care budgets for frontline services.

Parking services have also been recognised for safety, and Which? Magazine has previously named the Trust as being in the top six in the country due to offering free parking for renal patients, cancer patients, palliative care visitors, volunteers, research patients and trust members.

A spokesman said: “The trust offers a flexible payment structure for its parking. This includes a free period of 25 minutes for short visits, £3 for up to four hours, £5 for up to 24 hours and a £10 weekly pass that gives unlimited parking permissions for seven days.

“These charges have remained unchanged since 2008 and there are no current plans to increase them.

“The income generated from car parking charges funds management of the car parks, including CCTV and security staff. The remainder goes directly back in to the Trust to fund improvements to the provision, maintenance and security of its car parks.

“Without the income from car parking charges, the cost of maintaining the car parks and the security of visitors, staff and vehicles would need to be funded from budgets currently allocated for patient care."

Meanwhile, East Cheshire NHS Trust’s charges rose last year, with fees at Macclesfield Hospital now £3.50 for a stay of between 30 minutes and four hours.

A spokesman said the move, made in autumn 2017, was made to simplify charges, reduce rates for longer-term parking, and extend the time limit for free stays by 10 minutes.

In October, data showed that NHS trusts made more than £226m from parking fees and penalty fines in the 2017/18 financial year.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We have made it very clear that patients, their families and our hardworking staff should not be subjected to unfair parking charges.

"NHS trusts are responsible for these charges and ensuring revenue goes back into frontline services, and we want to see trusts coming up with options that put staff, patients and their families first."

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, has renewed his party’s pledge to scrap hospital parking fees.