TAMWORTH BASE HOSPITAL CAR PARK
Discussion on Petition Signed by 10,000 or More Persons
Mr KEVIN ANDERSON
(Tamworth) [4.31 p.m.]: It gives me great pleasure and it is an honour to speak on behalf of my community today. I congratulate the dedicated Tamworth Base Hospital Group, led by Kim Walsh, and everyone who took the time to sign the petition calling for a multistorey car park at the Tamworth hospital. This issue plagues hospitals around the State, and Tamworth is no different. I have worked at Tamworth hospital and know full well the problems that people face. Over the years there have been many complaints about the lack of car parking and there also have been many solutions offered—including looking at paid car parking at the hospital.
The challenge we face is that the hospital sits on a hill with the current main car park approach below the hospital. Stories abound of people having to park a long distance from the hospital and struggling to get up the hill either to the emergency department, the wards or the clinic building. It can also be very stressful. One mother told me the story of her son being taken to hospital by ambulance. She travelled by car and it took her a long time to find a parking spot, which was a long way from the emergency department. She was wondering about her son the whole time and just wanted to be by his side. Even for a young, fit person it is a tough haul getting up that hill, so spare a thought for the elderly, the disabled, the injured, the young and the heavily pregnant—and the list go on.
The Tamworth health services plan states that the total population in the Tamworth area is 77,000, growing to 79,000 by 2016. We need to ensure that we plan for that growth. Earlier I mentioned the aged. We need to look after them. They need to be able to park as close as possible to the hospital. The number of people aged 65 years or older across the northern part of the local health district is 15.3 per cent of the total population, or almost 30,000 people. This petition calls for a multistorey car park. In a perfect world, if we had loads of money and unlimited space, we could build what we want. I understand that, unfortunately, we lack those two key ingredients. However, that should not stop us from looking at opportunities and pushing for what we need. That is my job.
Timing plays a critical role in many aspects of what we do and the time is ripe to have this car parking discussion. We are in the middle of planning for a $220 million redevelopment of the Tamworth Base Hospital. Construction is to start next year and it will be completed in 2016, so this is the perfect opportunity to get it right. I know that detailed planning is underway and that we are on track for a modern facility that will provide our communities with the ability to receive health services closer to home. I implore those who are doing this good planning work to keep their eye on the ball when it comes to the master plan. The planning for the immediate facility in the short term is detailed and comprehensive, and I know car parking is a major part of that. However, ideas come and go before the final sign-off. Again, I ask our planners to keep car parking on the high-priorities list.
While we are constrained by money and space, we need to be realistic that a multistorey car park may not be doable at this time. If it is not doable, I call for a significant increase in spaces to be made available. That is crucial. If we cannot have the multistorey car park I still want more car spaces made available for those using the facility. Having said that, if we cannot have the multistorey car park now, my community and I ask that planners think seriously about allocating space in the master plan for a potential multistorey car park in the future. If that space can be set aside then at least we can plan for it. I hope they are considering that in the master plan.
The Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, has taken a personal interest in this $220 million redevelopment. I understand that she may be able to provide us with further information. I thank her for that. In the end, car parking is a critical aspect. It is no good at all if people's blood pressure goes through the roof when they are just trying to get to the hospital. After all, hospitals are about trying to help people get better, not worse. Congratulations to Kim Walsh and the Tamworth Base Hospital Group for putting this petition together. It is an honour to represent them today. Rest assured that we will not give up this fight.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD
(Macquarie Fields) [4.37 p.m.]: The petition reads:
The undersigned petitioners therefore ask the Legislative Assembly to consider inclusion of a Multi Storey Car Park in the planning of the redeveloped T.B.H.
It was received on 9 November 2011. The reply from the Minister for Health is dated 13 December—I note that the Minister will speak after me—and states:
...car parking will be provided in accordance with local and State planning guidelines. The project will include reconfiguration and expansion of car parking at Tamworth to support the Stage 2 development.
The letter also states that the $220 million funding is part of the "NSW Government's Better Hospitals & Healthcare Plan". That is interesting because it does not mention that $120 million of that is being allocated by the Federal Government. The Federal Government contribution is being airbrushed out of all State Government discussions about this project. I also refer members to a question without notice in the upper House on 7 September about the future planning of the Tamworth hospital and the $3 million that has been allocated for planning.
One of the oldest tricks in the political book is for agreement to be reached about a new bridge, station or car park and the local member is then told to collect a petition. The petition provides a database and makes it appear as though the member has fought for something that had been agreed to prior. I know that after this debate the member for Tamworth and the Minister for Health will be asked whether any agreement had been reached before this petition was collected. I look forward to the Minister's reply. All political parties have done this for many years. Pardon my cynicism, but I would not be surprised if agreement had already been reached on this matter.
Mr Paul Toole:
Point of order: My point of order is relevance. I ask that the member for Macquarie Fields not mislead the House by comparing the efforts of our Ministers to what occurred during the previous 16 years under the Labor Government.
That is not a point of order.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD:
This is a worthy petition. It is a no-brainer that a multistorey car park needs to be built. The site is constrained, it is on a hill and there is no staff parking, which presents a significant problem for evening shifts. Tamworth Base Hospital is a principal referral hospital, for which there is very high demand. In 2009-10 the emergency department treated 44,000 people. The number of patients treated in emergency departments is going through the roof for a variety of reasons, one of which is the shortage of general practitioners in the area. A major complaint by outpatients about all outpatient services around the State is a lack of parking. It is clear that some form of multistorey car park will be required at the hospital.
However, the Minister should explain whether the car park at the Tamworth Base Hospital will be a paid car park because many multistorey car parks are now subcontracted to parking companies. We need to hear from the Minister in the near future whether staff and patients will be charged for parking at the hospital. It is important to have this information because many such car parks are subcontracted and it is very difficult to get a parking rebate for hardship cases. Parking charges can be a major impost on elderly people who have conditions such as cancer that require frequent hospital visits.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister that a multistorey car park will be built that will not charge. It is easier to go up than to go out because the Tamworth site is constrained and the only option that will meet the demand is a multistorey car park. As I said before, as a major regional hospital, Tamworth Base Hospital faces unique challenges. While the Minister did say that there will be parking in accordance with local and State planning guidelines, the Tamworth hospital needs more than that because, as a major referral hospital, it is unique. It requires more than is provided by the guidelines because the demand will continue to increase. Because this hospital has greater demand than many other hospitals its size, it will require more spaces than are required by the guidelines. I look forward to the announcement—I expect it will occur at a politically opportune time—that the multistorey car park will go ahead and that it will be free. [Time expired.
Mrs JILLIAN SKINNER
(North Shore—Minister for Health, and Minister for Medical Research) [4.43 p.m.]: I thank the member for Tamworth and the 10,200 people who signed the petition regarding this important issue. I was a little surprised at the Opposition health spokesman suggesting there was some problematic issue in relation to petitions. That is an insult to the petitioners that really should not have been made in this Parliament. As the shadow Minister and all on this side of the House would know, patient surveys show that car parking is a major issue for patients but also for staff. It is an issue that was all too frequently ignored by Labor but has been taken up by the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals.
Turning to the redevelopment at Tamworth, I was thrilled in my first week as Minister for Health—in fact, I think it was the second day—to be accompanied by the newly elected member for Tamworth on a visit to Tamworth Base Hospital. We stood outside the hospital with the then Federal health Minister, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, and announced that the funding for that hospital—the pooled resources of $100 million from the newly elected State Government and $120 million from the Federal Government's Health and Hospital Fund—would enable the $220 million redevelopment to proceed. I have talked about that many times in this place and I have often mentioned how generous and how gracious I thought it was of the Hon. Nicola Roxon to say that it would not have happened if the State Government had not put its money where its mouth is. I am delighted that, at long last, we have been able to come together with the Federal Government to fund this hospital.
The hospital provides major new clinical services, including medical, surgical, inpatient beds, day surgery, paediatrics, maternity, emergency, including an emergency resuscitation bay, renal dialysis and oral health, and the list goes on. It is a major redevelopment. Currently it is in the schematic design phase and the tenders are expected to be issued in February 2013. It is a major piece of work. I will be pleased to join the member for Tamworth on visits during all stages of the project. I am pleased to announce that the master plan for the hospital includes space allocated for a multistorey car park, to be constructed by an arrangement with the private sector according to the Car Parking Strategy being finalised by the ministry. It is the same strategy that will deliver car parks to Nepean, Blacktown, Wollongong, Shoalhaven and Sutherland—all ignored by the former Labor Government.