THE John Hunter hospital bills itself as one of the state's busiest. Indeed, it has been the cornerstone of the Hunter New England Health network since its 1991 opening.
Gladys Berejiklian's pledge to spend $780 million overhauling the New Lambton base if her government survives past the March 23 poll will be one welcomed in the region. If it materialises, the overhaul offers a chance to update the biggest landmark of the region's primary employer and address ongoing issues including traffic and parking during the design.
The size of the promise is unprecedented in this campaign, eclipsing even the Newcastle light rail project's budget. It is not, however, out of nowhere. In September NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard branded a redevelopment as the "most outstanding project that could happen in the regions".
“I don’t know yet, but it will be a lot," he said of the cost. "What we build will be, if you like, an Aladdin’s cave for talent, so I suppose we’re going to have to match that with the dollars," Mr Hazzard said.
Labor's decision to match the commitment is one that firms up the region's chance of seeing it materialise regardless of what happens on May 23. With minority government regarded a potential outcome, having unilateral support for the project may prove vital.
Regardless of the outcome, Hunter voters who have watched Nelson Bay Road and other projects stagnate after lofty commitments in campaigns past will be wary until the first sod it turned.
Despite these caveats, the commitment to the John Hunter is a welcome one. Given planning continues on the final leg of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass, connecting a hospital overhaul with the new entry point offers a chance to ensure total compatibility between the two without the need to accommodate existing infrastructure as fixed.
So vital is the hospital to the region that the challenge of treating patients during construction will be one to require significant consideration. With the $470 million Maitland hospital's construction due to start this year, a new era may be close at hand for health care in the region.
As always, the details will prove crucial to ensuring the project achieves its aims and the money is used efficiently. With both parties on board, though, there will be plenty of time to determine the finer details.