A leading lawyer believes that 37 hospital trusts in England and Wales may be breaking the law by requiring disabled patients and visitors to pay for parking in their car parks, reports the BBC.
Disability rights lawyer Chris Fry believes that there has been a misreading of UK law on equality, contained in the Equality Act 2010.
The Act makes it illegal to treat someone differently on the basis of a 'protected characteristic', which is defined to include age, gender, marital or civil partnership status, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability status.
The 2010 Act applies to the provision of both public and private services, bringing hospital parking under the remit of the Act.
According to Mr Fry, a managing partner at law firm Unity Law, the hospitals that charge for disabled parking may be discriminating against disabled users because they often have no choice but to drive to hospital sites, whereas able-bodied patients have the option of using the bus or travelling by foot.
In addition, Mr Fry cites the fact that disabled patients typically take longer for a visit as another area of potential inequality, as the cost of parking for disabled patients will then inevitably be higher.
The 2010 Act includes in its section 149 a 'public sector Equality Duty' that requires public bodies, like hospitals, to consider all individuals when delivering services. It requires public bodies to recognise that different users may have different needs and to create policies that reflect these varying needs to "remove disadvantages suffered by persons connected to [a relevant protected characteristic]".
The Act suggests that this may mean that disabled people are treated differently in order to preserve their equality of access to services.
The BBC's '5live Investigates' submitted Freedom of Information Act requests on charging for disabled parking to all the hospital trusts in England, receiving responses from 116. Of those, 37 said they charged disabled users for parking.
The cost of parking varied considerably, with the most expensive in Truro, where the Royal Cornwall Hospital charges £4.80 for up to four hours' parking, and the cheapest in Dartford, where the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust charges just £1 per hour.
However, some hospitals have hit back at accusations of inequality, saying that their disabled patients had requested to be charged the same parking fees as able-bodied patients.
Southend University Hospital Trust brought in parking charges for disabled users four years ago.
"All blue badge holders pay the same rate as other patients, visitors and staff," they said in a statement.
"The hospital forum feedback is that disabled persons wish to be treated the same, where practicable, as able-bodied persons," the statement continued.
The decision to charge disabled users for parking has already led to legal action against one NHS Trust. In July this year, Medway NHS Foundation Trust introduced a £2.50 charge for its disabled users, something that Sue Groves from Chatham has decided to challenge.
"It takes longer for disabled people to get from A to B, so they're likely to incur higher charges," she said.
"They're also likely to be attending the hospital more often and more frequently, so basically they're going to be paying more than other visitors to the hospital," she added.