Rising numbers of NHS hospitals are charging disabled patients and visitors for parking, official figures show.
The statistics reveal that 139 hospital sites insist on such payments, even though the Health Secretary has described them as a “stealth tax on the vulnerable”.
Labour said the situation was “a disgrace” with patients being forced to pay the price for a financial crisis in the health service.
The figures from NHS Digital for 2016/17 show average parking costs at some trusts are as high as £3.20 an hour.
Overall, 139 hospital sites are revealed to be charging disabled patients and visitors – a rise from 135 sites in 2015/16, and 132 in 2014/15.
In 2014, Jeremy Hunt told hospitals to reform the system of charges, and to ensure concessions for people with disabilities.
He said patients “shouldn’t have to deal with the added stress of unfair parking charges,” urging the public to hold the NHS to account for any poor practices.
Justin Madders, shadow health minister, said: “It is a disgrace that Jeremy Hunt has done nothing to tackle parking charges for disabled people, despite acknowledging himself that they are unfair.
“Disabled people often have no choice but to drive to hospital, and it’s wrong to target them with parking fees.
“The truth is hospitals are being forced to introduce or increase parking charges because they are desperately short of cash. This Government has caused a financial crisis in the NHS, and disabled people are paying the price.”
England is the only part of the UK where hospitals routinely charge patients and visitors for parking.
Last year an investigation found a third of hospital trusts in England had increased their car parking charges in the previous year.
Some were found to be charging as much as £4 for a one hour stay.
The new figures examine average rates, which tend to be lower because of discounts over longer periods.
Some trusts allow patients and visitors to park for free for the first 30 minutes before charges kick in. But others have scrapped a one or two hour charge, meaning people have to pay a flat fee for three hours even if they are only staying for 45 minutes.
The analysis by the Press Association found the most expensive trust in the country for a one hour stay was the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, where patients are forced to pay £4 for any stay up to two hours.
The new figures show that for average hourly costs, the most expensive site is St Thomas’ Hospital in London, at £3.20 an hour.
Neither hospital charges disabled patients.
Some NHS trusts offer concessions to visitors whose loved one is terminally ill, and also discounts or weekly tickets for lengthy courses of treatment.
Previous investigations have found NHS trusts making more than £3 million a year from car parking fees.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Patients and families should not have to deal with the added stress of complex and unfair parking charges.
“NHS organisations are locally responsible for the methods used to charge, and we want to see them coming up with flexible options that put patients and their families first.”