FRUSTRATED hospital visitors are missing out on crucial time with their loved ones after the parking machine stopped working.

Limited spaces at the London Road entrance of the Royal Berkshire Hospital have been a problem for several months, with some people using the car park even though they are not visiting family.

Patients have paid more than £8m to use the hospital's parking facilities in the last five years and critics have suggested scrapping the charges.

Drivers are believed to be taking advantage of the free parking on offer, as the hospital is no longer able to prove people have paid for a ticket.

Reading Borough Council launched a park and ride service from Mereoak to Craven Road last year in a bid to reduce the volume of cars.

However, some visitors have reported problems at the London Road site since the new £1 coin was introduced.

A spokesman for Royal Berkshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “A new ticket machine for the car park located at the London Road entrance to the hospital has been ordered and we are expecting it to be in installed shortly.

"We know that parking can sometimes be difficult and with the ticket machine out of order people not visiting the hospital may be parking onsite.

"We would ask anyone that is using the car park and not visiting the hospital to please consider the effect this may have on patients who need to attend appointments, or on people visiting loved ones.”

Consistently, the car park has made between £1.3m and £1.5m each year for the last five years.

This has led to many people asking where profits on the car park facilities are being spent.

The Patients Association said it was unfair that hospital parking in Wales and Scotland was largely free, but that patients in England were still forced to pay.

Chief executive Katherine Murphy said: “The shocking reality about car parking charges is that they are taking money from the sick and vulnerable to top up NHS coffers.”