THE cost of 24-hour parking at hospitals has trebled since 2016 following further increases announced this week.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which operates Hexham General and Haltwhistle War Memorial hospitals, as well as the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington, has announced widescale changes to its parking charges.

The changes mean that patients and visitors will now be charged £6 to park in the hospital grounds for up to 24 hours, whereas the cost was just £2 prior to being doubled to £4 in June 2016.

While it used to cost £1.20 to park up to an hour, it will now cost people £2. There will be no changes to disabled badge holders as parking will remain free of charge. The new costing system is as follows:

l 0-20 minutes = Free

l 20 minutes - one hour = £2

l 1-2 hours = £3

l 2-3 hours = £4

l 3-4 hours = £5

l 4-24 hours = £6

The trust insisted the changes were introduced in response to reports that some car parks, particularly at the Cramlington hospital, were being misused by the public as a cheap long stay alternative when they went on holiday or shopping.

The changes also allow people to pay on exit to remove the stress related to worrying about their car parking tickets expiring while they are in hospital.

Les Morgan, interim director of estates and facilities at the trust, said: “We know that attending hospital can be a stressful time so we need to make parking as straight-forward as possible, which is why we have introduced consistent pricing across our sties.

“Car parking charges at Northumbria Healthcare remain among the lowest in the NHS, and are used to cover the cost of maintaining/securing the hospital car parks.

“All additional revenue generated beyond this is reinvested directly into patient care and developing local services, ensuring out patients continue to receive the very best care.”

While the changes will be implemented across all sites owned by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust free parking will continue to be provided in a number of circumstances.

Eight dedicated car parking bays will be provided for patients attending for cancer treatment and for visitors of long-stay patients.

Patients and visitors need to speak to ward managers to see if they are eligible for the dispensation.