Greater Auckland hospital parking charges of up to $18 a day have been criticised by visitors who say there should be a discount because visiting a hospital is hardly fun.
Hospital carpark operators charging the same as spots in the CBD have been accused of "making money out of misery".
Every hospital in the greater Auckland region charges its visitors but parking is free at 60 per cent of the country's 20 district health boards.
And the country's busiest hospital, which serves Counties Manukau, one of New Zealand's poorest areas, is the most expensive and none of the money made by the carpark is returned to the health board.
Figures collected by the Herald show that of the eight health boards that charge for parking at their hospitals, there is a 50:50 split between those owned by private companies or by the boards.
Hospital carparks that charge a premium of up to $18 a day have been slammed as a rort by visitors who say there should be a discount because visiting a hospital is rarely enjoyable.
Scott McGill, whose youngest daughter is in Starship for a heart operation, said those running the carparks were "making money out of misery".
For a 20-minute visit, he was charged $3 - a sum he considered to be too expensive.
As a condition of approving the construction of parking facilities under the 2003 Auckland DHB Building Programme, the health board and the Government agreed to undertake a financing process to offset the capital funding.
In 2004, after a tender process, AMP Capital was chosen to operate the facilities and has a 20-year contract. The ownership of the land and parking building remains with Auckland DHB, which will receive about $3 million from the profits.
Spokesman Mark Fenwick said rates were set to ensure a fair tariff comparable to other sites such as metropolitan-area and publicly funded or not-for-profit carparks.
Those parking sites included those run by Auckland Council, the other Auckland-region DHBs and by the private hospitals such as Mercy Hospital and Ascot Hospital, Mr Fenwick said.
"Rates are also set to ensure that there is no distortion in the market that sends non-hospital parking to Auckland DHB because its rates are lower than these comparable carparks."
Mr Fenwick said each clinical service had the flexibility to discuss concessions for those experiencing hardship.
For those occasions when visitors needed to stay in the public carpark for longer than normal, parking fees were capped to either $3 or $10 a visit.
The most expensive hospital to park at is Middlemore Hospital in Papatoetoe.
The site with 2200 parking spots is owned by Middlemore Carparking Ltd, a private company that sets the charges and retains all of the profits under a concession contract with Counties Manukau DHB.
Health board chief executive Geraint Martin said the carpark charges were always under review and that they were locked into a long-term contract.
"We are seeking to make carparking as affordable as possible within the constraints of this current contract," Mr Martin said.
"It is important to be aware that the contract only applies to Middlemore carparking.
"At all of our other sites where elective surgery takes place, such as the Manukau SuperClinic, carparking is free. This accounts for the majority of patients we look after."
One of the health boards which owns and operates its carparks is set to increase its rates to cope with "growing pressures".
Visitors and patients at the Waitakere and North Shore hospitals will face a jump in fees, but Waitemata DHB said some would also pay less.
Group manager of hospital operations Phil Barnes said the move was to better align their parking rates with other DHBs in the Auckland region.
"We have kept our parking prices unchanged for more than two years, but growing cost pressures across all our services have forced us to make this decision."
Mr Barnes said that from July 22, most would pay a maximum of $6 under the new fee structure as more than 80 per cent of patients and visitors to the two hospitals parked for less than two hours.
For those staying longer than three nights and for visitors likely to enter either hospital multiple times over a seven-day period, the DHB has introduced a $20 weekly discounted carparking pass.
Mr Barnes said the proceeds would help the DHB reduce financial pressure on its services, as well as contribute towards improvements at its hospitals.
Waikato DHB also runs its own parking facilities but the maximum daily rate of $7.50 is less than half what is about to be charged atthe North Shore and Waitakere hospitals.
In 2011, more than $2.1 million, or 30 per cent of revenue, was pocketed from people parking at Waikato Hospital. A spokeswoman said the money went into a general fund "used for the provision of hospital and healthcare services" in the region.
And in Wellington at Hutt Valley Hospital, which is also run by its DHB, more than $2.7 million was pulled in from parking fees in one year. That is more than twice what was collected five years ago.
Capital and Coast DHB's executive director of clinical and corporate services, Kelvin Watson, said the revenue went back into a general fund and was not allocated to any specific purpose.
But some health boards have put their foot down.
In February, the Hawkes Bay District Health Board rejected a controversial bid to introduce paid carparking at its facilities.
Hastings Hospital management needs to raise $400,000 to build 120 extra car spaces and proposed last year to make staff and visitors pay to park at the hospital, the Napier Health Centre and DHB corporate offices.
Patients and visitors would pay $2 for up to an hour and a maximum of $5 for a full day and staff between $10 and $20 a week.
But the proposal met fierce opposition and more than 600 staff petitioned against it, saying that the "one-size-fits-all" charges were unfair considering the range of salaries among employees.
The DHB is now asking local councils for a ratepayer-funded grant to fund the extra car spaces.