International healthcare providers are welcome to Saudi

 

Healthcare remains a top priority for the government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), within the government’s Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme (NTP) 

Vision 2030 promised to transform KSA and reduce its reliance on oil income for economic growth by channelling energies into other revenue streams. Certain sectors and industries were identified as having potential for growth with one area being the healthcare sector.

NTP targets for the ministry of health for 2020 include increasing:

  • private healthcare from 25% to 35% of total healthcare expenditure: 
  • the number of licensed medical facilities from 40 to 100;
  • the number of internationally accredited hospitals.

To increase efficiencies and reduce costs, the government in KSA has actively explored private sector involvement in the development of the healthcare infrastructure in the Kingdom. 

Until recently there were limited options for foreign investment in the healthcare sector as foreigners could only own, operate and invest in large hospitals and were unable to invest in other healthcare institutions such as clinics, polyclinics and laboratories as well as support healthcare service centres such as physiotherapy, nutrition and optical centres. 

In March 2019, it was announced that foreign companies could own and manage private healthcare institutions and support healthcare service centres in KSA with the exception of clinics and pharmacies. The law will be amended to reflect this change, but it is not yet inforced even though it has been approved. 

In advance of the rules, the authorities are accepting applications for operating licences and foreign investment licences. Authorities are encouraging foreign investment and the Ministry of Health has published a Healthcare Investor Licensing Guide, which documents all the recent changes to foreign investment in the Kingdom’s healthcare industry and explains the licensing application process.

All healthcare institutions and support healthcare service centres must have a Saudi managing director and with the exception of hospitals and support healthcare service centres, while all healthcare institutions must be supervised by a Saudi physician. Hospitals must have a qualified Saudi medical director rather than be supervised by a Saudi physician.

The authorities have reported significant interest from foreign companies and are proving to be very willing to assist potential investors. Some large healthcare providers are watching closely and are keen to enter the Saudi marketplace; but are wary of the increasingly tense political climate in the region. Many potential investors, although they could legally have 100% ownership, see practical and political advantages and protection through working with Saudi partners.

Through collaborations with medical institutions in other countries, a number of hospitals within the Kingdom already provide a telemedicine facility as an additional service to its patients. 

The opening up of foreign investment into healthcare institutions and support healthcare service centres this year demonstrates the Kingdom’s seriousness in developing and improving the private healthcare market. It is actively seeking foreign investment and is welcoming the right investors with open arms and is paving the way for easier incorporation without administrative delays and complications. 

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