FURY is growing over a huge hike in business rates that could leave cash-strapped Hampshire hospitals struggling to fund vital services.

Campaigners say NHS sites should be made exempt from business rates or awarded the same status as private hospitals, which are classed as charities and receive an 80-per-cent discount.

Some of Hampshire’s MPs are planning to raise the issue with the government amid fears that the higher rates will lead to more cuts.

The national tax hike is expected to have a serious impact on hospitals such as Southampton General. Its annual bill will jump from £1.92 million to £2.53 million, leaving it with £600,000 a year less to spend on patients.

Other hospitals are also being charged more in a move that threatens to place extra strain on NHS budgets, which are under severe pressure.

According to data compiled by business rate specialists CVS, NHS facilities in Southampton, Winchester and the New Forest will see their annual business rates rise by a total of more than £1.5m.

But private providers such as Nuffield Health are entitled to a huge discount because they are registered as charities.

Last night Cllr Dave Shields, Southampton City Council’s Cabinet member for health, said: “It seems bizarre that private hospitals are exempt from business rates and NHS ones aren’t - it’s an anomaly the government needs to sort out.

“I believe NHS hospitals should be treated in the same way as private ones that have charitable status.”

Asked about the likely impact of higher business rates on patient services he added: “It will add even more pressure on a service that is already at breaking point.”

Mims Davies, Tory MP for Eastleigh, is planning to lobby health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

She said: “This increase is substantial and potentially greatly impactful to patients and their treatment. On behalf of my constituents I will be writing to the Secretary of State asking him to look at this as a matter of urgency.

“We have no acute services in my area and patients have to travel to most services.

“I’m battling for more local access at sites such as Moorgreen and wish to be sure every penny possible is going into treatment and good quality services.”

Royston Smith, Tory MP for Southampton Itchen, also voiced fears that higher rates could place extra strain on NHS resources.

He said: “It does concern me that money which could be spent to good effect is being taken out of the service.”

In a series of parliamentary questions Mr Smith will ask the government to consider making hospitals exempt from business rates.

Last year more than 80 NHS trusts launched a campaign to be classed as charities, which would have enabled them to qualify for business rate relief.

But their demand for any rebates to be backdated for six years would have cost the government and local councils - which share business rate revenue - about £1.5bn.

The trusts’ plea was rejected amid warnings that town halls would have to raise council tax bills to cover shortfalls in their funding.

Universities already qualify for business rate relief in the same way as private healthcare providers.

But NHS trusts have always been regarded as public sector-funded organisations rather than charities, partly because they have boards of directors rather than trustees.

Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton Test, has warned that the proposed tax hike will have a “substantial”

impact on patient services.

However, the government defended the huge increase - due to come into force in April.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “This revaluation improves the fairness of rate bills by making sure they more closely reflect the property market.

“Rateable values are set independently by the Valuation Office Agency. We’ve also given local authorities the powers to grant additional business rate relief as they see fit.

“Overall nearly three quarters of properties in England will see no change or even a fall.”

The Local Government Association added: “NHS trusts and foundation trusts are not charities and therefore not eligible for mandatory nondomestic rate relief.”

Southampton General Hospital is run by the University Hospital Southampton NHS Fund Trust, which has declined to comment.