PRESSURE is mounting to cut parking charges slammed as a "sick tax" at Hereford County Hospital.

The biggest barrier will be persuading the company managing the car parks to take less profit.

But the hospital's Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract partners have been warned of "political implications" if they don't reduce the fees.

Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, said the charges - among the highest in the country - should be re-assessed in the light of new government guidelines announced this week.

Healthwatch Herefordshire also wants fresh talks over the cost of parking and how it could be made more affordable.

Public anger has also been expressed in a petition against the charges which topped more than 2,000 signatures last month.

This week’s guideline announcement has set new ground rules to regulate hospital parking charges and make the actions of private parking firms the responsibility of hospital trusts.

At Hereford County Hospital, parking fees are managed by the PFI partners and offer little financial benefit to the hospital itself.

Using the hospital car park currently costs £3.50 for the first hour, rising to £5 for two hours, £6 for three hours, £7 for up to four hours, £12 for nine hours and £15 for 24 hours.

These figures are due to rise again before 2016 under the current contract.

Mr Norman said the guidelines meant the ‘partners’ must be more mindful of growing public concern over existing charges, let alone any increase.

“If the new guidelines are not drawn into negotiations over parking then I am prepared to go further than I have done so far over this issue – there will be political implications,” he said.

Mr Norman has previously put Hereford’s hospital parking as a case study to parliament to emphasise the importance of regulating how much the public had to pay.

He met recently with new Wye Valley NHS Trust chief executive Richard Beeken, stressing the need to stave off another price hike.

Healthwatch chairman Paul Deneen said the guidelines were a chance to end a “sick tax" in the county.

“The PFI partners need more pressure to reduce the charges, the guidelines establish a principle by which negotiations could, and should, be conducted,” he said.

Cash-strapped WVT has ruled out a return to offsetting parking costs after it spent £300,000 on subsidies between 2008 and 2011.

The trust board has agreed, instead, to encourage more use of concessions.

Under the 30-year PFI deal that enabled the hospital to be built in 2002, management of the car park is sub-contracted over a 10-year term – signed off in 2006 – to Car Parking Plus on behalf of Mercia Healthcare, WVT’s contract partner.

The hospital is owned and managed through Mercia, which is a company 75% owned by Semperian, a London-based PFI firm, and 25% owned by French industrial giant Sodexo.