Wollongong hospital fees to rocket up to 173%

Andrew Gorman outside Wollongong Hospital car park. Picture: ROBERT PEET.

Andrew Gorman outside Wollongong Hospital car park. Picture: ROBERT PEET.

It's long been touted as the answer to Wollongong Hospital's parking woes but staff, patients and visitors are set to pay a high price for the multimillion-dollar car park expansion.

When the $27.8 million hospital car park redevelopment is complete in late 2015, a new fee policy will come into play so the state government can recoup some of the cost, the Mercury has discovered.

Public car parking fees will increase by an average of 78 per cent - and up to a staggering 173 per cent with a half-hour visit set to rise from $2.20 to $6.

Meantime, if you spend 2½ hours visiting a sick relative or friend, expect to pay 82 per cent more from late next year with fees to rise from $6.60 to $12.

And while the daily maximum is set at $11 now, it will rise to $18 under NSW Health's parking fee policy when the car park is commissioned.

Staff, too, will be hit in the hip pocket. They now pay a $2.70 daily fee - or $13.50 for a five-day working week. Under the new system, the weekly fee for full-time staff will be $21.

Health Services Union regional organiser Andrew Gorman said fees for Wollongong Hospital's car park were currently set by the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District.

However, any state hospital car parks undergoing redevelopment, like Wollongong, would come under NSW Health's hospital car parking fees policy upon completion.

Mr Gorman said the latest hospital to bear the brunt of the changes was Blacktown Hospital, which was where the union launched a state campaign against rising parking fees on Monday.

The union's "$1000 No Way" campaign calls on the government not to use hospital car parking as a revenue raiser. "It's unacceptable for workers to be forced to pay more than $1000 a year for parking," Mr Gorman said.

"That money - $21 a week - gets taken out of their pay whether they're there or not. They might be on annual, long service or sick leave - it still comes out. They're not even guaranteed a spot.

"The statewide policy has been put in place at many hospitals already and, while it doesn't affect Wollongong at the moment, it will once the redevelopment is complete."

Mr Gorman said while the expansion of Wollongong Hospital's car park was desperately needed, staff and visitors should not have to pay for it.

"Staff and patients have had to deal with parking issues for some time," he said.

"Some of our members drive to work half an hour to 45 minutes early to find a parking spot at the moment because the car park is full and they need to fight it out for on-street parking. Some staff are parking up to one kilometre away.

"So while we're happy there will be additional parking spaces and realise that there has to be some cost, we don't agree with such massive increases."

According to the NSW policy, the new fees may be phased in from the date of NSW Treasury approval of the car park project - meaning changes could be in store sooner for the car park under construction at Wollongong Hospital.

However NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the NSW government was focused on improving access to parking at Wollongong Hospital.

"New car parks at NSW hospitals will be subject to new pricing which will lead to a better deal for patients and staff."

She said concession rates were available for eligible users and volunteers with up to three hours of free parking, a $5 daily fee and $20 for seven days.

"The Health Services Union was silent when the former Labor government signed hospitals, including St George and Prince of Wales, up to inflexible parking contracts which are incredibly costly for patients and staff," she said.

The union is "playing politics", she said.

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