It's a hospital for the 21st century: bigger than the Bullring, all the latest facilities, an increased number of beds and half of its patients in single rooms.

Those were some of the details about Birmingham's new super-hospital that emerged yesterday as it was granted official approval by the Prime Minister, and its bosses prepared for the start of another "amazing voyage".

* Scroll to the bottom of the page to see what the hospital will look like *

The University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust - which runs the Queen Elizabeth, Selly Oak and Queen Elizabeth Psychiatric hospitals - will create a new #599 million hospital at the QE site in Edgbaston.

The scheme, the biggest outside London, will increase the number of beds from 1,050 at the QE and Selly Oak to 1,213, as well as a new mental health facility to replace the psychiatric hospital.

It will boast state-of-the-art A&E facilities, enhanced transplant and critical care units, and nearly half its beds will be in single rooms to help combat the spread of MRSA.

As Tony Blair gave his approval for the #697 million Private Finance Initiative scheme - which also incorporates new facilities at Moseley Hall, Showell Green in Sparkhill, and the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine which is based on the Selly Oak hospital site - trust bosses said they were delighted building work on the project could finally begin.

John Charlton, the trust's chairman, said: "It has been an amazing voyage but it's nothing compared to what will happen over the next five years.

"People don't realise the scale of what we're doing. It's vastly bigger than the Bull-ring, but despite the implications of building something that size, we've not had a single objection to our plans."

Mr Charlton also admitted that running the new hospital would be more expensive than keeping the QE and Selly Oak open.

"But that's the price you pay having new, top quality facilities," he said.

"This is a 21st century hospital providing the most advanced medical care for its patients, and that doesn't come cheap."

Health Minister Liam Byrne, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill said: "I am delighted to be able to announce the Government's approval in full for the redevelopment of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

"This will bring some of the most advanced care to the people of Birmingham and beyond."

Edgbaston Labour MP Gisela Stuart added: "This is what Birmingham deserves. It is a massive investment in healthcare for the city and a major project we can be rightly proud of."

Last month Department of Health officials spent two days examining UHB's plans, and suggested phasing in three 36-bed wards that could help shave #3.9 million off their annual #39 million PFI payments.

But last night local councillor Deirdre Alden (Con Edgbaston) said residents deserved to see the hospital open "in its entirety".

Coun Alden, chair of the city's health scrutiny committee, said: "I realise we can't just lop off parts of a hospital to save money, but the way round that is through 'shelling' - building wards but not fitting out all of them.

"I am glad this scheme has been approved in its entirety, as we've been kept waiting for so long, but I am concerned about these three wards.

"I will be keeping my eye on this issue."

But Julie Moore, the trust's chief operating officer, remained adamant the 108 beds would be ready.

The super-hospital will open in four phases, with a new mental health unit set to be first in summer 2008.