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Good prognosis for health system
The West Australian

Forget arenas, sports stadiums and quay developments - the biggest winners in a State flush with cash from the boom are our public hospitals, which are undergoing the equivalent of a triple heart bypass.

In what has been described by successive State governments as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, a massive rebuilding of hospitals across the State is shrugging off the remnants of what was becoming an ageing set of building add-ons.

Already millions of dollars in the planning, the capital works project will cost $5 billion all up.

This has been 10 years in the making, with plenty of changes along the way.

The overhaul is only halfway through but star billing goes to the biggest infrastructure project undertaken by the State - the $2 billion Fiona Stanley Hospital in Murdoch, which takes up the equivalent of four city blocks.

Though construction is due to finish in December, the hospital will not start operating until April next year but will boast some of the best medical technology and creature comforts for patients.

And the best part is it is fully paid for courtesy of the resources boom, the money squirrelled away thanks to past Budget surpluses.

There have been plenty of other sod-turning ceremonies around town, with a $1.2 billion new children's hospital under way in Nedlands as well as a $360 million public-private hospital for Midland to replace the ageing Swan District Hospital.

Joondalup Health Campus, which has public and private beds and is one of the busiest emergency departments in the country, is in the final stages of a $393 million redevelopment to increase beds.

The rebuilding plan dates back to 2003 when the then Gallop Labor government bit the bullet and commissioned NSW health consultant Mick Reid to redesign the State's public health system. Then health minister Jim McGinty described it as the most ambitious project undertaken in the Australian public hospital system.

One of Professor Reid's key recommendations was a new south-of-the-river tertiary hospital - although it was meant to be at the cost of closing Royal Perth Hospital, a decision the Barnett Government later abandoned as part of its election promises.

The decision to keep RPH open has had its critics because of concerns about the extra cost and staff needed but that is being weighed against the argument of the relentless surge in patients, particularly in emergency departments.

Outgoing director-general of health Kim Snowball remains optimistic there will be enough staff for the remodelled hospital system.

"We're not suddenly going to need 1000 extra nurses, it will be more an issue of distribution as hospital services move, and we will still have the same shortages we have now, like a lack of general surgeons and plastic surgeons," he said.