Construction of the new Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s hospital has begun.

The $200 million hospital is on track to open in the second half of 2018 with 20 maternity delivery rooms, 39 special care nursery cots, four operating theatres and an additional 43 maternity and paediatric beds.

Premier Daniel Andrews, Health Minister Jill Hennessy and St Albans MP Natalie Suleyman joined Western Health chief executive Associate Professor Alex Cockram and local youngsters, pictured, as the first sod was turned on October 23.

Work began on Western Health’s newest hospital – on the existing hospital site – 30 years after Footscray’s Western General Hospital and Sunshine and District Community Hospital merged in 1986.

Ms Hennessy said the new hospital, named after former premier the late Joan Kirner, would ensure women from the western suburbs would no longer have to travel to give birth.

“Joan fought passionately to grow health services for families in Melbourne’s west, and that is exactly what this new hospital will deliver,” Ms Hennessy said.

The hospital will cater for the west’s surging population growth, with births at Sunshine hospital expected to exceed 7000 a year by 2026. Construction of the new hospital is predicted to create about 600 new jobs.