By Deborah James
HOSPITAL patients and their visitors paid more than £2m in parking charges across Merseyside and Cheshire in a 12-month period, it emerged yesterday.
The figures were published as part of a report by a committee of MPs that slammed National Health Service charges as "a complete mess".
The Commons Health Select Committee warned prescriptions, dentistry and eye test charges had developed without any "comprehensive, underlying principles" and were "full of anomalies."
MPs also criticised the cost of incoming calls to hospital bedside telephones as insupportable, and recommended mobile phone use be allowed in some hospital areas.
They said hospital car parking fees should be scrapped for patients attending on a daily basis and season tickets should be introduced for frequent visitors.
Across the country, hospitals charged £78m for the use of their car parks, £63m was paid by visitors and £15m by their own hospital staff, in 2004/05.
In Merseyside Aintree Hospitals NHS Trust took the most cash from patients and their visitors, a total of £587,000, making each of its 375 public spaces worth £1,565 a year.
The second most profitable was North Cheshire Hospitals NHS Trust (Warrington and Halton), which took £430,000 from its 430 public spaces.
Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals took £414,000 from 566 public spaces, and the Countess of Chester NHS Foundation Trust took £370,378 from 504 visitor spaces.
The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Universities Hospital Trust took £252,079 from 139 public spaces.
Last night James Birrell, chief executive at Aintree, said the car parking charges were not unreasonable.
He said the income generated was used to improve security and lighting, had resulted in a reduction in car crime across site, and helped provide more free disabled spaces.
A spokesman for the Royal said the hospital had since closed its car park to the public, and visitors were now directed to a private multi-storey car park, which charges between £2.50 and £4.50.
Several trusts said they had already introduced weekly passes for regular visitors, including at the Women's Hospital..
MPs also criticise the cost of incoming calls to hospital bedside telephones.
The report said: "Incoming calls are a source of anger and distress. They are charged at a very high rate, up to 49p per minute.
"A recorded message, which cannot be skipped, makes incoming calls even more expensive."
Most Merseyside hospitals said they were directed by government to sign up to private telephone providers, which can charge around 10p a minute for an outgoing call and up to 40p incoming.
But some of the region's trusts are already ahead of the MPs' request to allow some mobile phone usage in hospitals, on grounds the signals are unlikely to interfere with clinical equipment.
The Royal has just changed its policy to allow mobile phones in corridors and general areas, and the Women's is considering a similar policy change.
A spokesman for the RLBUHT said: "We still can't allow mobile phones on the wards, for reasons of privacy and to prevent other patients being disturbed.
"Also most mobile phones now include cameras and some people have been found taking unauthorised pictures of patients and staff."
Liverpool's Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology, said it would wait for further advice from the Government before reviewing its £50 charge for wigs for cancer patients..
MPs said it was unacceptable that one third of opticians did not sell spectacles within the NHS voucher value.
They recommended all pharmacies, hospitals and GP and dental surgeries make available to patients information on charges to which they might be liable, eligibility for exemption, and possible assistance with costs.