Medical tourism bid for RPH

RPH could become a centre for medical tourism. Picture: File

Royal Perth Hospital could become a centre for medical tourism under a plan being considered by the State Government.

Colin Barnett is weighing the idea of inviting private investment into the hospital, potentially from overseas, while throwing open its doors to international visitors from Australia’s near northern neighbouring countries for elective procedures.

The plan is in its early stages and is not a formal commitment but the Premier gave an insight into his thinking at an Australian College of Health Service Management conference yesterday.

Mr Barnett said the Government’s immediate priority was to “bed down” Fiona Stanley, Midland and the new children’s hospitals but the focus would then shift to RPH “over the next couple of years”.

“It’s a very large area, covering several city blocks,” he said.

“It’s an area where the Government certainly contemplates private sector investment into that.

“And perhaps remodelling, reshaping Royal Perth and perhaps attracting some International investment in terms of providing healthcare to people in countries to our north with some sort of elective surgery model.”

The future of RPH remains a politically sensitive subject seven years after the Liberal Party made an election promise to keep the facility open and redevelop it if it won a second term.

Labor initially planned to merge RPH and Sir Charles Gairdner as one hospital on two sites. It later changed its position by planning to downgrade and partially demolish the RPH site when the Fiona Stanley Hospital was ready.

While a Barnett Government Bill was passed to “protect” RPH, redevelopment plans have been shelved and hundreds of millions of dollars for the project have been removed from Budget forward estimates.

Shadow health minister Roger Cook said it was doubtful whether WA could compete on price with established medical tourism centres in Singapore and Thailand.

While there has been growth of outbound medical tourism — Australians travelling overseas for cheaper elective procedures, especially in cosmetics and dentistry — inbound medical tourism is seen as a potential growth area because of Australia’s reputation for quality.

A 2011 report by Deloitte Access Economics for the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism found that the inbound medical tourism market in Australia was “small and scattered” but the number of medical tourists was estimated to have grown at about 14 per cent in the five years to 2010 compared to 2 per cent for all tourists.