High hospital parking fees putting 'pressure' on patients and their loved ones in New Zealand

"People aren't parking there to take advantage or to go 'shopping.'"
"People aren't parking there to take advantage or to go 'shopping.'" Photo credit: Getty

Families who regularly visit hospitals to support sick loved ones say it's a slap in the face they are being hit with high parking fees. 

Kristen Blaber-Hunt's 15-year-old sister has Crohn's disease and requires frequent trips to Christchurch Hospital where parking fees have been revealed as some of the most expensive in New Zealand. 

Cantabrians get the first 30 minutes free and then are asked to pay $7.50 to park between 30 and 60 minutes and $5 per half-hour from there. 

The past two years have involved ongoing hospital visits which means whoever takes Blaber-Hunt's sister to the hospital - usually their mum - will have to pay for parking for any time spent there over 30 minutes.

"Due to her medication failing they've had to try a different treatment which involves, once a fortnight, her going into the hospital to get medication through a drip which takes four hours," Blaber-Hunt told Newshub.

"You can imagine how much this would amount to a month, let alone a year." 

Blaber-Hunt says the new costs are going to make the process even more stressful for her mum, as she has to take time off work to take her there in the first place for these appointments.

She wants DHBs to consider the impact this cost is having on the families it impacts. 

"They do need to consider the number of people visiting and the space available which I guess is why they have time limits, but they also must realise it isn't like a shopping mall. 

"People aren't parking there to take advantage or to go 'shopping'. They're there because either they or someone they love is needing care."

What does the rest of New Zealand pay for hospital parking and why?

According to the Auckland DHB's website, Auckland City Hospital charges $11 for between three and four hours. 

The Waitematā DHB, which oversees facilities such as North Shore and Waitakere Hospitals, raked in $3.6 million last year and $4.6 million in 2019.

In Palmerston North, the Mid-Central DHB pulled in $320,000 in the year ending June 2020, and $465,000 in the year ending June 2019. It costs $7 to park between three and four hours.

"The primary purpose of revenue from paid parking is to effectively and efficiently manage parking in the best interests of patients, visitors, and staff while covering the cost of infrastructure maintenance and upgrades," said a Mid-Central DHB spokesperson, when asked why it charged this amount.

In the capital, it costs just $4.50 per day to park at Wellington Regional Hospital. The Capital and Coast DHB, which operates the facility, earned nearly $2.8 million in the 2019/20 year.

Capital and Coast contracts parking firm Care Park for Wellington Regional Hospital, chief financial officer Rosalie Percival said.

"While [it's] key to accessing healthcare, parking is not our core business and Care Park has the expertise to manage the complexities of parking on a large campus, in an area with limited public street parking, and high and growing demand."

In the Waikato, Hamiltonians pay $6 for between three and four hours and $7.50 for the whole day. 

Waikato Hospital.
Waikato Hospital. Photo credit: Newshub.

'Nasty revenue gathering'

In announcing the parking charges for its recently opened Waipapa building, Canterbury DHB commercial portfolio manager Rachel Cadle described the building's parking as "short stay parks".

"They are short-stay parks and we expect the pricing after the first 30 minutes will encourage them to be used in that way."

But Blaber-Hunt said if the costs were lower, stress would be alleviated for patients and whānau.

Some health boards have seemingly tried. At Palmerston North and Hutt hospitals, and in Waitematā for example, long-term subsidised parking is available for both patients and whānau.

"We also have concessions for emergency vehicles, courier and delivery drivers, buses, shuttles, and hospital volunteers," the Mid-Central DHB spokesperson said.

"The cost of parking at Palmerston North Hospital has not changed since paid parking was introduced in 2010, but the period for free parking was extended from 30 minutes to 40 minutes in 2017."

A Waitematā DHB spokesperson said it considers people's circumstances when it comes to charging.

"At all times, consideration of peoples' circumstances is carefully balanced against the need for the DHB to generate the funds required to cover the cost of providing parking services.

On top of this, we do a significant amount to assist with parking costs, including a free 20-minute grace period - the longest such period at any major public hospital across the greater Auckland region."

But according to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, many Kiwis are still being ripped off.

"While modest charges may make sense in large city hospitals where good public transport is available, we think for places like Northland, where patients often travel considerable distances, hospital parking fees are a nasty revenue gathering tool which should be abolished," union executive director Jordan Williams told Newshub.

Blaber-Hunt, meanwhile, questions whether the parking income is worth it.

"Higher costs add to stress which adds to mental health pressure which leads to lower immunity naturally which in turn may in the long run cause more people to end up needing care," she said.

"Is higher parking costs really worth it if it's going to end up putting more people in unhealthy situations?"