THE Countess of Chester Hospital is to increase its parking charges.

The first 30 minutes will be free but then the minimum charge will rise from £2.50 to £3 for up to five hours.

The current flat rate will be replaced with sliding scale which will see visitors paying £5 for up to eight hours and £7 for more than eight hours.

Countess bosses will introduce the new parking regime from July 3 following a public consultation in which the majority of responders indicated they would prefer a sliding scale of charges.

Hospital spokesman Stephen Winterson said: “This means that 92% of users will pay £3 or less for their visit.”

He added: “We have an excellent record on vehicle protection with barrier entry and exit, 24 hour manned security and CCTV coverage, which is all paid for by the parking charge.

“Any surplus from the parking charges, after paying for the fabric of the car parks, barriers and 24 hour manned security, goes into general hospital funds.

“These funds can be used for any of the costs associated with running the hospital, including medical staff, equipment, buildings and other elements of patient care.”

Mr Winterson said many patients and visitors were exempt from paying the charge, including patients on certain benefits, disabled badge holders attending an appointment, some regular patients and families of patients in certain units.

He added: “These changes to the car parking charges do not have any effect on those groups of patients and visitors who are entitled to exemption from paying or assistance with car parking charges.”

There was a chorus of disapproval when the hospital last increased the parking charge from £2 to £2.50 in 2008.