Canterbury's biggest public hospital could end up being owned by a private company that would lease it back to the district health board.
The board has been told to prepare a business case for rebuilding the earthquake-damaged Christchurch and Burwood hospitals at an estimated cost of $600 million.
Health Minister Tony Ryall says Mr Ryall says that could involve rebuilding most of the clinical wards at Christchurch Hospital, including a new acute services wing, and a new specialist centre at Burwood Hospital.
He says the board has also been told to consider whether a public-private partnership (PPP) could be a cheaper option.
Mr Ryall says that under that scenario - which would be a first in the health sector - a private company would raise the money needed and build, manage and maintain the hospitals, while the DHB keeps full responsibility for delivering public health services.
But it will only go ahead, he says, if it makes financial sense and benefits patients.
The board says the go-ahead is the best Christmas present it could have, and it accepts the need to consider a PPP.