AN NHS trust has come under fire for reintroducing parking charges for visitors and patients after suspending them during the coronavirus pandemic.

The fees apply to the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General Teaching Hospitals as well as the smaller Accrington Victoria, Pendle Community and Clitheroe Community Hospitals.

The fees apply to patients and visitors and but parking at the five sites remains free for staff.

The move has been condemned by East Lancashire Patients Voices chairman Russ McLean and Darwen East Liberal Democrat Cllr Roy Davies as 'a retrograde step'.

Parking at all five sites rises from £1.90 for three hours through £2.80 for eight to £3.50 for 24.

A spokeswoman for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We have been very pleased to provide free car parking to staff, visitors, and patients during the last eight months. In fact, ELHT took the decision to suspend parking charges prior to the March lockdown at the start of the pandemic.

“We hope this has made things slightly easier and safer for everyone who still needed to come onto our hospital sites.

“However, as we move into the winter months, and with our services re-opening, our hospital sites are busier than ever. It is important to note the charges haven’t been reintroduced by the trust as a way of raising additional funds."

Mr McLean said: "Reintroducing charges for patients and visitors is a retrograde step.

"I am pleased staff are exempt and it should stay that way.

"It is ridiculous that people have to pay to park to see their loved on in hospital. These charges should be scrapped."

Cllr Davies said: “This is a retrograde step. It is the wrong decision and should be reversed. I am concerned the response from the trust is 'the charges haven’t been reintroduced by the trust as a way of raising additional funds', so why have they been re-introduced. The charges will force people out of their cars and onto public transport and causing more coronavirus infection. I am pleased parking remains free for hospital staff who have contributed so much during the pandemic."