NHS trusts earned £98m from car parking charges in 2005-06 - a 26 per cent increase on the year before, figures presented to the Commons health select committee have revealed.

Conservative committee member Mike Penning told HSJ: 'This is an immoral tax on people at their most vulnerable time. Not just on the patients, but on their loved ones too. Given the location of some of these hospitals, for many there is no choice but to drive.'

The figures were given to the committee in preparation for its annual enquiry into health and social services expenditure. NHS chief executive David Nicholson and permanent secretary Hugh Taylor are due to appear before the committee to answer questions today.

Mr Penning said: 'We have been very critical as a committee about NHS charges such as this and the impact they have on people with long-term conditions who have to make multiple outpatient visits.'

Last year the committee criticised variation in car parking fees levied within the NHS and found hourly rates ranged from 30p to£4. While 92 per cent of English hospitals charged for car parking, only 53 per cent of hospitals in Wales, 20 per cent in Northern Ireland and 6 per cent in Scotland did so.

A DoH spokeswoman told HSJ the£98m figure was drawn from a voluntary statistical report from 503 out of a possible 583 NHS bodies.

She said it was for individual NHS bodies to set parking charges on their premises, taking account of local factors. Car park overheads such as maintenance and security needed to be covered. 'Not to do so would risk diverting funds away from patient services,' she said.

For more analysis by HSJ's editor, click here