HOSPITALS raked in almost £4 million in car parking charges in one year.

The money comes from patients, visitors and staff using car parks at hospitals in Brighton, Haywards Heath, Worthing, Shoreham, Chichester, Eastbourne and St Leonards.

Patient groups want parking charges to be scrapped but hospitals say they are needed to maintain and secure spaces.

Hospital trusts say charging for parking also helps to prevent spaces being used by people working in or visiting town centres.

Patients with long- term conditions such as cancer or kidney failure, who need to visit often, are allowed to park for free or given concessions.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath among others.

The trust charges visitors to the Royal Sussex between £1.80 for two hours to a maximum of £17 for 12 to 24 hours.

It earned £1.031m between April 2013 and the end of March this year, a slight drop on the year before.

A trust spokesman said: “This is reinvested in car parking facilities and security arrangements and allows us to spend more money we receive from tax payers on the care of patients.”

Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Worthing Hospital, Southlands Hospital in Shoreham and St Richard's in Chichester, earned £1.588 million, a slight rise on the previous year.

Its charges at Worthing range from £1.30 to £7.60.

Facilities manager Mitch Thomas said: “We do try to keep the costs as low as possible and in line with other comparable charges in each of the three areas our hospitals are located in.

“Our charges haven’t gone up for almost four years now.

“We provide significant concessions for patients who are in hospital for a long period and for specific groups – such as patients undergoing regular dialysis – we ensure that their parking is free.

“The income is reinvested into parking and security services, with any surplus being used to improve patient services across the trust.”

East Sussex Healthcare also increased its income, generating £1.338 million from charges which range from £1.50 to £14.90.

Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy branded hospital parking charges a “tax on the sick”.

She said: “Hospitals should be properly supported by the Government and should not have to rely on charging patients and visitors to park.

“Car parking charges make a mockery of a service supposed to be free at the point of need.”