Western Sussex Hospitals Trust raised millions of pounds through charging staff, patients and visitors to park last year, figures reveal.

NHS Digital data shows Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust made around £2.4 million through parking charges and penalty fines in the year to March 2020.

Of that, £1.8 million was paid by patients and visitors, while £614,421 was raked in through charging staff to park.

Figures reveal that patients and visitors paid an average hourly rate of £1.43 at the most expensive of the trust's two sites, while staff dug out 4p per hour at the priciest spot.

READ MORE >> Royal Sussex County Hospital: NHS staff get parking fines

Across England, NHS trusts raised £289 million from parking charges – nearly a third of which came from staff parking, generating £90 million over the year.

The figures represent the gross income earned by the NHS and do not take into account its own costs for providing car parking.

Workers are losing £2 or more from their pay packet every hour at the most expensive car parks nationally, the data shows.

A Western Sussex Hospitals spokesman said: "We have extended free parking for our staff as well as introduced new park and ride facilities and a free minibus shuttle service for staff to use between our three hospitals.

“Our public car parking costs are kept in line with other nearby parking charges in order to prevent our limited hospital car parking from being used by visitors to the town centres.

“We provide concessions for patients who are in hospital for a long period and for specific groups, such as patients undergoing regular dialysis, carers and blue badge holders - their parking is free of charge.

“The income generated from our paid-for car parks is reinvested into the trust to improve patient services.”

The Government announced last year that it would cover the costs of providing free car parking to NHS staff working in hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. However, it said the scheme would end in all but "certain circumstances" as the pandemic eased over the summer.

Rachel Harrison, the national officer for GMB, said: "Government cuts have inflicted a heavy toll on the NHS, but trusts should not be clawing that cash back by charging the people we rely on to keep us alive."

Ms Harrison added that it was "sickening" to see workers forced to shell out for parking again as some trusts reintroduced charges for staff.

The Argus: Workers are losing £2 or more from their pay packet every hour at the most expensive car parks nationally, the data showsWorkers are losing £2 or more from their pay packet every hour at the most expensive car parks nationally, the data shows

“Ministers must now support our healthcare heroes by enforcing free hospital staff parking and scrapping plans to reintroduce charges once the pandemic ends," she added.

Patients' rights campaigners the Patients Association said while billing people to park at NHS car parks is a "charge on people who are unwell," it provides much-needed income for trusts at a time when their finances are under pressure.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "In March, the Government committed to making hospital car parking free for NHS staff for the duration of the pandemic and is providing additional money to NHS trusts to cover the cost of implementing this.

"Any surplus income generated from hospital car parks not used to fund the provision of car parking, such as security and maintenance, must be reinvested into frontline care."

But greater clarity on the overall funding pot for free staff parking is needed, according to NHS Providers, which represents trust leaders.

In a briefing to MPs, the organisation said it is "vital" that trusts receive enough funding to pay for the measure to enable them to maintain services and put money into frontline services.

It added that some trusts had already reinstated charges for workers to ensure there were enough spaces for staff and patients as people avoid public transport during the pandemic.