STAFF and patients can wait an hour or more to leave the John Hunter Hospital, prompting renewed calls for a full interchange to be built as part of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass to relieve congestion.
Sonia Hornery raised the issue in Parliament on Tuesday, after being “flooded” with hundreds of complaints from hospital staff and patients who say the congested road network in and around the site becomes “gridlocked” most days.
The State Member for Wallsend said since the hospital’s park and ride shuttle bus service was replaced by 740 on site car parks in 2015, the “already congested” road network regularly came to a standstill, with traffic jams causing lengthy delays of 20 to 60 minutes.
“This is unacceptable, not just for visitors who are exiting the hospital, but for the staff who work long hours, only to face frustrating delays when simply trying to leave their workplace,” Ms Hornery said. “These are people with families, children to pick up from school, appointments to keep.”
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association assistant general secretary Judith Kiejda said congestion in the area was “unbelievable”.
”It took me over an hour and half just to exit the hospital campus last week,” she said.
“As a primary referral hospital this is a major issue that requires urgent attention.”
Ms Hornery called on the government to reinstate the park and ride facility, and build a complete interchange as part of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass as a second entrance and exit to the hospital.
The proposal for the $280 million fifth and final stage of the bypass from Rankin Park to Jesmond includes a half interchange that provides access to and from the hospital from the north only, connecting to the campus from a new access point to the west.
Vehicles entering and exiting from the south would continue to use Lookout Road.
A Roads and Maritime Services spokesperson said they expected the project would reduce traffic by up to 50 per cent along the existing route of Lookout Road, Croudace Street and Newcastle Road.
One John Hunter Hospital staffer, who emailed Ms Hornery’s office but was reluctant to be named, had collated times and dates of time delays experienced by staff and visitors exiting the hospital.
They said from about 3.30pm to 6pm, particularly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, staff could wait between 20 minutes to an hour to leave the site.
“My concern is that there will be a major incident in which people are in traffic jams and no emergency vehicle can get through to assist,” they said.
Hunter New England Health capital works manager Brett Evans said they supported a full interchange to access the hospital from the bypass.
“Traffic incidents and congestion on Lookout Road can have an impact on the traffic flow in and out of the hospital campus, particularly during peak periods,” Mr Evans said.
“We are looking forward to the construction of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass between Rankin Park and Jesmond. The bypass will provide another exit point from the campus onto a different road network and will assist with traffic flow.”
Another John Hunter Hospital staff member, who emailed Ms Hornery but did not want to be named, said it had taken an hour just to get out of a car park after an accident on Lookout Road.
“Many of us were in our cars by 5.10pm, but had not left the John Hunter Hospital campus by 6pm,” they said.
“It was very stressful for a lot of people, but particularly staff with young children who need to pick up from offsite childcare by 6pm.”
As previously reported in the Newcastle Herald, the Australian Paramedics Association said the bypass, while “obviously needed and long overdue” left significant issues unresolved “and is not anticipated to relieve a number of locations where traffic congestion frequently delays paramedics.”
Hunter-based association spokesman Tim McEwen said the half interchange only improved access for inbound ambulances approaching from the north.
“It prevents available ambulances responding from the hospital should an incident occur on the section of bypass between Lookout Road and the John Hunter or to the south, if the intersections on Lookout Road are blocked,” he said.
“A full interchange would alleviate both issues.”
Ms Hornery said patients and visitors who called her office were upset. Some had waited months, if not years, for appointments at the hospital, and as a result of the chaotic traffic, some would now “have to wait even longer.”