Health officials have been accused of trying to make money out of vulnerable patients after it emerged that disabled visitors to Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon will now have to pay to use the main car park.

Previously, disabled drivers or blue badge holders could park free of charge at the hospital, with other visitors and patients subject to a pay-and-display fee upon arrival.

But, under a new system introduced on Monday, all drivers who visit the hospital will be subject to a parking fee, determined using a token system.

The token system is pay-on-exit and was first announced last October by Circle, the company which used to manage the hospital before it returned to NHS control earlier this year.

The system is designed to remove the need for penalty parking charges and was billed at the time as a 'flexible' way of parking that would reduce stress for visitors.

Councillor Bill Hodges, from St Neots Town Council, visits the hospital with his wife, Ann, at least once a month, and has called the new parking system "absolute chaos".

He said: "I can't see any other reason for charging disabled people to park than making money. I think it is absolutely disgraceful.

"As a councillor, I know I am going to get lots of complaints about this, it's ridiculous. I saw no warning that this was going to happen, it's been sprung on us."

Cllr Hodges said he was concerned that vulnerable and disabled patients would be hit hard by the charges, particularly as they were likely to be regular visitors to the hospital.

He added that he was charged £2.90 to park for four hours.

A spokesman for Hinchingbrooke Hospital said: "Our patients, visitors and staff raised concerns about parking capacity and payment methods at the hospital. We are committed to ensuring that our parking facilities are equitable and accessible for all users, so following discussions with local council representatives, we are in the process of introducing new pay on exit machines and barriers to replace our existing pay-and-display machines.

"The first of these new barriers was activated today (Monday) in the main car park at the front of the hospital and the remaining car parks will move to this new system in early 2016.

"For convenience, the new payment machines are located in the main hospital reception near the exit doors and also near the new parking kiosk in the car park and will initially take cash payments only while the system is bedding in.

"In early November 2015 however, they will also take debit and credit card payments for additional convenience to users.

"Our priority has been to improve parking capacity, reduce anxiety for patients and visitors and maintain fairer charges. We have also taken the opportunity to increase the number of disabled parking spaces for blue badge holders in our main car park to 24, and where applicable, users can get a refund of their parking and travel costs via the government's Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme.

"In addition, there are also 22 other disabled spaces conveniently located in drop-off areas around the hospital. These spaces are not chargeable and limited to two hours use."