Health November 5, 2019
A region of opportunities – healthcare development in the Middle East

By Scarlett Windmill-Last - World Healthcare Journal

The Middle East continues to be a region with a rapidly developing health economy. World Healthcare Journal, in partnership with Al Tamimi and Bevan Brittan, brought together a panel of experts including representatives from the Dubai Health Authority to discuss what that means in terms of opportunities.

Our panel considered multi-faceted challenges facing the market with regard to export and changes to the market, including infrastructure and the global workforce crisis. The governance of PPP projects, particularly in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, focused the discussion on developments to the legal and regulatory framework in the sector. Steve Gardner, Publishing Director of World Healthcare Journal, facilitated the debate as chair and was accompanied by a number of key players involved in developing the health sector across the Middle East.

Dr Ibtesam Al Bastaki, Director of the Investments and Partnership Department for the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) took part remotely from Singapore and introduced the audience to the unique landscape of investing in Dubai. She presented the Dubai Health Investment Guide (DHIG) initiative through which the DHA “gives insight in terms of demand, supply, opportunities and gaps” allowing “great insight for the investor to look at the various areas where they can invest in the healthcare sector. ”

Expanding upon this, Dr Ibtesam Al Bastaki impressed the importance of the upcoming Certificate of Need programme, saying; “We would like to balance supply and demand in the healthcare sector. We want to create a kind of ecosystem for more sustainability. ” The opportunity of developing PPP projects further strengthens the Dubai Government’s desire for a more sustainable environment.

Ahmed Faiyaz, Senior Advisor, Investment & PPP’s Department of DHA, also joined the discussion from Dubai and offered insight into the changes to the market. “There’s a great deal of reform when we look at health services in Dubai; we’ve seen this trend not just here but also in different parts of the UAE and the Middle East where the private sector is growing. ” He continued by discussing the maturing of regulation across the region, saying that the region is “really starting to see regulation that didn’t exist before in areas such as clinical practice guidelines”.

Not only will regulation work towards improving the quality and safety of services in Dubai, but DHA is also developing the measurement and reporting of quality and efficiency metrics. The increase of information supports the introduction of the Certificate of Need, encouraging rapid growth in the sector, distributing investment evenly across much needed specialisms including oncology, orthopaedics and non-acute inpatient services, such as inpatient rehabilitation.

In summary of the Certificate of Need, Ahmed Faiyaz described it as having been developed to “streamline and optimise the supply of health services in the market, bringing only those services of a very high calibre that can be feasible in the long term. ”

Telehealth was touched upon as a key area of immediate opportunity within the market, allowing for remote patient monitoring and wellness services to develop with support from the Government’s accelerator programme. With 50 per cent of the population only having a basic form of health insurance, the DHA is promoting the growth of tech agencies to provide the public with a wide range of available services.

The UK experts’ viewpoint

Following the comprehensive insight provided by both Dr Ibtesam Al Bastaki and Ahmed Faiyaz, the panellists in London discussed the strength of the healthcare market and the projects they are currently involved in across the Middle East.

Andrea Tithecott, Partner and Head of Regulatory and Healthcare at Al Tamimi & Co, supported the enthusiasm of DHA by sharing her on the ground experience. “It is a very busy market in the Middle East, with the countries in the Gulf moving away from the oil and gas sector focus and diversifying their economies. ” Touching on the Investment Guide, Andrea highlighted that not only is healthcare on the strategic development list of Dubai, there is also a huge appetite for healthcare in Abu Dhabi with their Master Development Plan. Saudi Arabia’s Transformation Plan and Egypt’s Health Insurance project further outline the scale and reach of the region’s healthcare plans.

Saudi Arabia’s desire for development was referenced by Mott MacDonald’s Global Head of Healthcare Facilities and advisor to Healthcare UK, Richard Cantlay, who added; “Saudi is a really big pipeline in terms of the private sector participation programme. ” Oman was also mentioned as a key area for PPP opportunities due to the recent introduction of legislation around these projects and the support of capital funding.

With two years’ on the ground experience in the UAE, Trevor Torrington, CEO at The Priory Group, presented one of the main challenges faced by the sector - data. The lack and inaccuracy of data across the region, especially within mental health, has presented a huge issue for providers. Simon Swift, Managing Director of Methods Analytics, is working to understand the existing data in order to forecast the shape of care and quality of care across the region.

Jodie Sinclair, Partner and Head of Employment, Pensions and Immigration at Bevan Brittan, impressed the importance of research in-country before engaging in any work, in order for companies to best understand the opportunities with regard to the limited supply of data.

Another key issue is that of workforce. This is a multi-faceted problem faced by the health sector globally; however, the specifics of the workforce issue in the Middle East present a new challenge. Due to the landscape of employment across the Middle East, there is a distinct lack of a native healthcare workforce. Alistair Russell, Head of Business Development at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust raised the point that attitudes are changing in relation to tackling these issues. Where formerly the focus had been on infrastructure, there is now more of an understanding of the need for human capital and Imperial is actively engaged in projects to plug this gap.

This theme seems to be key for healthcare providers as Trevor Torrington confirmed. “We have a hybrid problem so we have a rotation of staff who go out to the Middle East for a fixed-term contract but also train locals. That’s the key for us. ”

In conclusion

As each panel member stressed, opportunities are not sparse across the Middle East, and both Government support and international investments are providing finance for projects across the region. In order to capitalise on this, experience dictates that on-the-ground research is essential to success across the Gulf. In order to address the workforce issue, DHA is supporting the push to increase the prestige of medical professions, while encouraging trade missions and learning programmes for visiting doctors and nurses.

There is work to be done in order to curate a world-class healthcare system across the Middle East and international input is essential for its successful development. As Steve Gardner summed up; “Anywhere in the global health economy, the two things that are key are money and people”


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