Fundamental structural changes in Saudi Arabia healthcare

 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) with a population of 32.6 million is the largest country in the Gulf. The population will reach 77.2 million by 2050. Under Vision 2030 the country is going through fundamental structural changes in healthcare in anticipation of this increase.

KSA’s healthcare sector is currently structured to provide a basic platform of healthcare services to all, with specialised treatment facilities offered at some private and public hospitals. The system needs to treat emerging lifestyle diseases and illnesses associated with modern and urban lifestyle, partially due to the growing middle-income population.

The government is encouraging private sector participation in the healthcare sector as the public sector’s role is gradually transitioned to becoming a regulator rather than as a provider of healthcare facilities.

In 2017, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) announced that foreign investors can have 100% ownership in health and, once implemented this is expected to boost private sector investment in healthcare in KSA.

Saudi’s Ministry of Health (MoH) is the regulator for all healthcare. MoH also runs healthcare services in KSA that provide free care for Saudi nationals. Where private hospitals are not available or under certain emergency circumstances or in case of specialised treatments that are not available in local private hospitals, expatriates can access MoH facilities.

The government healthcare facilities are hospitals and health centres operated by the MoH and predominantly catering to employees of the government organisations that include: National Guard, Ministry of Defence and Aviation, Ministry of Interior, Royal Commission, ARAMCO.

Expatriates use private sector facilities as they do not have full access to public facilities and at times Saudi nationals also visit private facilities to avoid the waiting time at public facilities and to benefit from the higher quality of care.  The private sector has 32.2% of hospitals but caters for 37% of outpatients.

Due to advancements in healthcare technology, the number of day care surgeries have significantly increased, resulting in higher demand for day care surgery centres. The demand for these has also increased due to an increase in lifestyle diseases including diabetes, obesity, depression, strokes, cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure, which does not require treatment in traditional hospital set-ups.

Saudi Arabia needs more hospitals and clinics, so the private sector needs global investment.  However, there are various reasons why global investors are wary including public perception towards the country’s negative human rights record; the regime’s intolerance to criticism of their government (including threats issued from Saudis against countries voicing this criticism); and a threat to use oil supply as a political weapon.

For a more detailed analysis of the medical travel sector to and from Saudi Arabia, visit the IMTJ Country Profile.

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