The Government has hailed the planned redevelopment of Christchurch's quake-damaged hospitals, saying it will be the largest and most complex building project in the history of the public health service.
The Cabinet has agreed to set aside $500 million from the Future Investment Fund to pay for work on Christchurch and Burwood hospitals, with the fund money coming from the proceeds of partial state asset sales.
The rest of the money for the $600-million project will come from the Canterbury District Health Board.
Prime Minister John Key says the project, which gets under way within the next two months, will add an extra 160 beds at Burwood and Christchurch hospitals.
Health Minister Tony Ryall says there will be an extra eight operating theatres and a new expanded critical-care unit and emergency department; services for children and the elderly will also be improved.
DHB chairperson Bruce Matheson says the announcement is a significant milestone after many years of planning.
"We now have clear priorities," he says, "and the expectation is that the first of our new facilities at Burwood will be open in two years. This is a very challenging time-frame and one we intend to meet.
"This is the biggest public health construction project to be undertaken in New Zealand, and we are very conscious of our responsibility to get value for money and deliver on time."
DHB chief executive David Meates said the financial commitment was fundamental to rebuilding Christchurch's public health service.
The redevelopment at Burwood Hospital is due to be completed in 2015 and at Christchurch Hospital by 2018.