DAILY parking charges at some hospitals are now up to four times more expensive than they were two years ago, new figures reveal.
Parking hikes, which hit patients, visitors and staff, have been imposed in most hospitals in a bid to make up budget shortfalls.
However, new figures obtained by the Irish Independent show some of the highly profitable schemes suffered a fall in parking income last year as growing numbers of people sought parking outside of hospital grounds or used public transport in response to the hikes.
A survey reveals Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, which two years ago charged a €4 flat rate, now has a tiered price list to a maximum of €20.
Waterford Regional Hospital, which used to charge a €3 flat rate, is now imposing an €8 maximum daily rate. Parking charges generated €1.4m last year.
Connolly Hospital in Dublin offered free parking until 2009. But it now costs €2.20 an hour and €10 for a full day, earning it over €100,000 a year.
Cork University Hospital and Cork Maternity Hospital earned a combined income of €2.8m in 2011 from parking, and, although this was down in 2012, the hospitals were still taking in €50,000 a week.
Kerry General Hospital, which charges €8 for between two to three hours, suffered a fall in income from the scheme last year – though patient and visitor numbers were up.
Parking revenue was down from €870,392 to €786,881.
The price survey shows huge variation in charges across the country.
A motorist dropping off a patient at St James's Hospital in Dublin gets just 10 minutes' free time before hourly fees of €2.50 kick in. Portlaoise and Mullingar Hospitals give the first half-hour free.
A €2.20 per-hour charge kicks in immediately for people who park at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, where a private company operates the service.
The daily charge in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin was hiked to €14 in recent years, while in University College Hospital Galway it is €8 and Limerick Regional Hospital charges €10.
The Galway hospital car park generates €3,000 in fees daily. It offers the first 20 minutes free and charges €1.80 an hour.
The HSE, which has intervened to set fees for certain services such as A&E attendance, admitted it leaves charges up to individual hospitals.
Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients' Association, said people visiting acutely ill relatives were shocked by the bills they faced at the end of the week.
"It is definitely an area that needs to be looked at. Several of the hospitals are using private operators and a cost analysis of whether it would be cheaper to do it in-house should be done," he said, adding that people who made prolonged visits to relatives were not being told they could seek a special rate.
A HSE spokesman said income from the charges forms an integral part of the hospitals' budgets.