EMILY Thornberry has backed calls for hospital car parking charges to be scrapped after a record haul of £174m was coughed up last year.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said the current system was taking advantage of sick people and their families at an already stressful time.

Patients and visitors have handed over more than £8m to use the Royal Berkshire Hospital's facilities over the last five years, while staff are also expected to pay if their allocated spaces have been taken.

Ms Thornberry paid a visit to Reading to support Matt Rodda with his canvassing on Thursday, before attending a charity dinner at Sonning Golf Club.

She said: "I think we have to think of another way of funding the NHS rather than expecting the stressed relatives of very ill people to be paying charges.

Reading Chronicle:

"We need to think about how we can help look after people and not take advantage of them, which I think the system does.

"My mother was really ill and intensive care. It was touch and go for a long time and it was an immensely stressful period.

"Paying all this money time and time again to be able to park was difficult.

"If you have got a relative who is very ill, it is another stress you can just do without."

The car parking charges for patients and visitors to the hospital have stayed the same since 2011, with a consistent profit of £1.3m every year for the last five years.

Reading Chronicle:

Fees have been described as a 'stealth tax' on the elderly and Theresa May is facing mounting pressure to force NHS trusts to ditch the charges.

Mr Rodda, MP for Reading East, believed the service should be supported by taxation instead of putting the burden on relatives.

A Department of Health spokesman added: “Patients and families should not have to deal with the added stress of complex and unfair parking charges.

“NHS organisations are locally responsible for the methods used to charge, and we want to see them coming up with flexible options that put patients and their families first.”

A spokesman from Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust said: “The car parking charges for patients and visitors to the Royal Berkshire Hospital have remained the same since 2011. 

"The revenue from our car park goes towards the operational costs of the hospital, which includes the upkeep of all car parking facilities across the site.”