Hospital car parks earned €1m a month from patients and visitors
Patients and visitors are paying more than €1m a month in car parking charges at HSE-run hospitals, new figures have revealed.
Public hospitals collected nearly €13m in only a year from the unpopular charges that have been described as a tax on the sick.
A public petition signed by more than 3,300 people has called for the charges to be scrapped for cancer patients and their families.
The massive figure in out-of-pocket payments, which can add to stress at a time when patients are coping with illness and treatment, does not include the money generated by several voluntary hospitals such as St Vincent's in Dublin, where the charge can be up to €14 a day.
The HSE has confirmed that there is still no national policy governing car park charges.
"However, the HSE continually monitors and reviews all its charges to ensure that they are appropriate," said a spokesperson.
The extent of the car parking bill in HSE-run hospitals, which was revealed in a parliamentary reply to Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane, shows Cork University Hospital took €3.1m in parking revenue in 2016.
It charges €2.70 an hour and a maximum of €15 a day.
University Hospital Waterford generated €1.5m. It charges €4 for up to three hours and €6 for four hours, with a maximum levy of €8 a day.
Parking is also a big earner for University Hospital Galway, which collected €1.3m last year.
Sarah Anderson of the HSE's Finance Directorate said local arrangements for car parking are managed by hospitals and the rates in place are not collated nor held centrally.
"Car park charges were introduced as part of a series of measures to ensure that the cost of the provision of such services was not taken from a hospital's operating budget," she said.
"The income generated from paid parking is an important stream of funding to hospitals to ensure continued provision of health services."
Several hospitals have outsourced the running of the car parks.
The Irish Cancer Society called on the HSE last year to issue guidelines to hospitals to start providing free parking for patients undergoing cancer treatment.
It also asked all seven hospital groups and private parking operaters to treat cancer patients and their families with compassion.