JOHN Hunter Hospital will become one of the most expensive places to park in Newcastle when Hunter New England Health increases its car park fees and introduces timed parking next month.
Free parking on the Belmont, Wallsend and Waratah hospital campuses will be a thing of the past when a $4 flat rate is introduced, and the flat rate at Maitland Hospital will rise from $2.20 to $4.
Parking at John Hunter Hospital currently costs a flat rate of $4 but, from November 6, that will increase to $2 for 20 minutes to an hour and up to $10 if you remain in the car park for more than six hours.
Hunter New England Health director of corporate services James Brown said the move was designed to promote a greater turnover in the John Hunter car park and would mean fees were cheaper if people stayed for less than two hours.
The service was also trying to encourage people to take public transport or use the free shuttle service from EnergyAustralia Stadium to get there.
Mr Brown did concede some people, such as dialysis patients, had no choice but to park at the hospital for extended periods.
"But at the end of the day if we are to provide quality health care it needs to be accessible," Mr Brown said.
"We have patients who miss appointments because they're driving around looking for a park."
And while many emergency department patients also have long stays, Mr Brown said if they were not sick enough to go through the system in a few hours they should see a GP instead.
"We're trying to discourage people from using emergency that shouldn't be in emergency," he said.
The area health service made $1.8 million from parking fees and a further $20,000 from parking fines last financial year.
Mr Brown said that money went to maintaining the car parks and frontline health services.
He said the service was considering building more car parks but wanted to try to make the existing ones more efficient first.
"Car parks are very expensive things," he said.
And so is car parking at the John Hunter, according to visitors and patients The Herald spoke to yesterday.
Paul Judd, of Buttaba, said he had been visiting a relative who had been in the hospital for a week, twice a day.
"It's unbelievable," Mr Judd said of the new timed system.
"It all adds up. It's a very expensive exercise."
Bill Locke, of Rutherford, regularly has appointments at the hospital and said the difference was "a big jump".
"It makes it hard for pensioners," Mr Locke said.