SIX of the country's biggest hospitals are raking in more than €1m a year from car park charges.
And many of the country's hospitals are making three times more from hourly parking charges than it costs them to operate the facilities.
But families and friends visiting patients in seven hospitals around the country are in the lucky situation of having free parking facilities.
The biggest earner in the country from car park charges is Cork University Hospital, which took in almost €3m in 2012. It made a profit of €572,000 once costs were taken into account.
St James's Hospital in Dublin took in almost €1.8m in car park charges and was left a profit of €1.3m after costs.
St Vincent's University Hospital, which has been at the centre of the executive salary top-ups controversy, took in €1.78m, while Tallaght Hospital earned €1.5m.
However, Tallaght insisted that all the money went towards the cost of the service, while St Vincent's said that it was only left with €58,000 after costs had been accounted for. It said this would go towards car park repair works as well as higher future loan repayments for the car park.
Other hospitals with large income streams from their car parks include Waterford Regional Hospital (€1.4m) and Galway University Hospital (€1m).
The fees, which have been dubbed "a tax on the sick", have become an important revenue stream for hospitals.
Seven hospitals -- including Mallow, Bantry, Nenagh, Ennis and Roscommon -- do not charge for car parking.
The Coombe maternity hospital in Dublin, which earns just €187,000 from car parking, gives a free one-day pass to fathers of newborn children.
The figures were obtained from the HSE by Fine Gael Limerick county TD Patrick O'Donovan, who submitted a parliamentary question about how much it was costing hospitals to provide their car parking.
"I have no problems with hospitals charging for parking. But I certainly think there should be a standard parking charge. Parking charges are higher in Dublin, so the cost could be regionalised," he said.
Each of the 39 hospitals with parking facilities is free to set its own charges.
Cork University Hospital has said the revenue of almost €3m that it generates from parking is an essential element of hospital funding. The HSE has also said the charges are essential for budgets.
Mr O'Donovan said he would like to see hospitals putting up information next to car park charging machines about what the money is being used for.
Many hospitals have hiked their parking charges in recent years to in a bid to make up budget shortfalls. But most of them still earned slightly less in 2012 than in 2011 as growing numbers of people sought parking outside of hospital grounds or used public transport.
Some hospitals, such as St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, operate their own car parking service. But others outsource it to private companies.
Beaumont Hospital was paid €822,654 in rent last year by the private company which operates its car park.
Some hospitals failed to supply the HSE with the information requested about their car park income and costs, including Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin.
It has also been involved in the salary top-ups scandal after revelations that its chief executive, Lorcan Birthistle, is paid a €30,000 top-up from the proceeds of its shop and on-site commercial activity.
The HSE is still awaiting a response from Our Lady's and from Mayo General Hospital.
Letterkenny General Hospital failed to supply figures on how much it earned from parking, saying all profits from the past two years had been reinvested in the service.
Sligo Regional Hospital said that it would not release the "business-sensitive information" because it was putting its parking contract out to tender again.