SIX of the country's biggest hospitals are raking in over €1m per 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 hospital 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 were accounted for.
It said this would go towards car park repair works as well as higher future loan repayments for the car park.
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 struggling to cope with budget cuts during the recession.
But there are seven hospitals, including Mallow, Bantry, Nenagh, Ennis and Roscommon which do not charge for their car parking facilities.
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 service.
He said it showed the huge disparity in how much hospitals around the country were earning from car park charges.
"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.
Cork University Hospital has said that the revenue of almost €3m it generates from car parking is an essential element of hospital funding and contributes to the overall hospital budget for staff, medicines, equipment and maintenance.
Mr O'Donovan said he would like to see hospitals putting up information next to car park charging machines about what the money was being used for.
"If people are being charged for car parks, then they should know the €1.5m is going into refurbishment of buildings in the hospital," he said.