“The Cabinet approved the budget allocation in principle to implement a project to upgrade Phuket’s health tourism to a world-class health tourism city,” Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, revealed yesterday (Mar 1).
“The amount of investment is B1,411.70 million to strengthen the readiness of the technology infrastructure system, medical science and medical service system and supporting the provision of modern international medical and public health services,” he said.
The budget is also to be used to “develop Phuket City to be a center of high-value medical services through international tourism”, he added.
Vachira Phuket Hospital is the unit responsible for the project, Mr Thanakorn said.
“The development of a project to upgrade Phuket’s health tourism to a world-class health tourism city will be a model for health tourism It is part of the upgrading of the tourism industry for the high-income groups and health tourism, which is one of the 12 targeted industries to transform the country’s development in the next phase,” Mr Thanakorn added.
Details of the funding of the mega-project have yet to be fully explained in public, other than generic statements like those given by Mr Thanakorn, saying that the project “will raise Phuket’s medical tourism to international standards”, despite having four international hospitals on the island.
The Treasury Department together with the Public Health Ministry in October 2020 vowed to splurge as much as B4 billion to develop the centre.
In December that year, the Treasury Department officially handed over more than 141 rai in Mai Khao to the Ministry of Public Health so that an “International Medical Centre” can be built at the site.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan presided over the handover ceremony, held at the Ministry of Finance headquarters in Bangkok.
Also present to receive the land were Public Health Deputy Minister Dr Satit Pituthecha and Dr Kiattaphum Wongrajit, who at that time was the Public Health Permanent Secretary.
The land, in total 141-2-64 rai (141 rai 2 ngan 64 talang wah), is to be developed into a medical service centre aimed at elevating health tourism to Phuket as part of plans to turn the island into a medical destination post COVID-19, Deputy PM Prawit said.
Part of the plot has also been entrusted to Vachira Phuket Hospital for the creation of international-standard facilities for the treatment of the elderly, heart conditions and physical therapies covered under the national economic and social rehabilitation policy.
Chalermong Sukontapol, Director of Vachira Hospital Phuket at the time, present at the ceremony in Bangkok, explained that the aim was for Vachira Hospital to establish a medical and public health service centre with comprehensive international-level services. called the ‘International Health Plaza’.
The development is also to include an International Geriatric Care Center (“Premium Long Term Care”), a Hospice Care Center, a ‘Jai Rak Center’ for heart conditions and the establishment of a comprehensive physical rehabilitation centre.
“The aim is to stimulate the economic value of Phuket and the country by providing local residents and tourists with access to standardised health services and providing a full range of services to community enterprises to sell local products and services,” Deputy Health Minister Dr Satit.
“People in the area will enjoy greater employment and this in turn will distribute income throughout the community. This can serve as a model for health tourism to other regions,” he added.
“It will take two years to construct. Phase 2 of the project will include the establishment of the southern branch of Bamrasnaradura Institute to create a Cancer Radiotherapy Centre and Tropical Medicine Centre. This will make high-tech services more accessible to people in the area,” Dr Satit said.
The origins and initial proponents of the multi-billion-baht project have been mired in obscurity. News of the project was first announced by the Phuket office of the Public Relations Department (PR Phuket) on June 19, 2020.
Despite posting the first report of the project, PR Phuket denied breaking the news, instead crediting unnamed “reporters”.
PR Phuket reported that the project was proposed by “Former Governor of Phuket” Phakaphong Tavipatana, along with Dr Chalermpong Sukhonthapol, Director of Vachira Phuket Hospital at the time, and Dr Thanit Sermkaew, chief of the Phuket Provincial Public Health Office (PPHO) at the time, and “various sectors”, which were not identified.
The news was also posted on the same day that Narong Woonciew arrived on the island to take up the post of Phuket Governor, replacing mr Phakaphong, who was transferred to Phetchaburi province.