Thousands of foreign doctors and nurses will be needed in Saudi Arabia over the next five to 10 years as the Middle East state struggle to fill positions with suitably qualified people, it has been confirmed.
The kingdom’s Ministry of Health is planning up to 100 new hospitals and up to 2,000 outpatient centres at a cost of around $18 billion as part of a five year development strategy to cope with an aging population and a rise in chronic disease levels.
According to Dierderik Zeven, senior director of Philips Healthcare, the state will need to recruit at least 7,000 doctors and nurses to meet the healthcare needs of its growing population.
Expat medical staff are likely to provide the bulk of new recruits, required to work in existing facilities and those yet to be built, he said.
‘Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest investor in healthcare in the region. It will need another 7,000 doctors and nurses over the next five to ten years to address the needs of its population and work across the existing and new facilities,’ he explained.
‘They are investing heavily in education, building university teaching hospitals and so on, but there is no doubt they’ll still be dependent on expat assistance coming from all over the region,’ he added.
Not only is the population increasing rapidly but the kingdom also has soaring rates of chronic disease. One in four nationals has been diagnosed with diabetes, while the annual cost of providing cardiovascular care is expected to reach $8.6 billion by 2025, around 23% of all medical costs in the kingdom.
Managing such diseases will require an overhaul of Saudi’s national medical system, with an increased focus of family medicine, said Ruch de Silva, senior consultant for healthcare consulting at Datamonitor.
‘Chronic disease management and primary care will be critical to ensure that all patients will have a primary care physician to manage their basic healthcare needs and refer their patients for specialist consultations and treatment,’ he told Arabian Business.
There is also an increase in the over 65 age group that put a heavier burden on health services. In the next 14 years, researchers expect the number of over 65s to jump threefold.
De Silva said various incentives would be required to entice both expats and Saudi nationals into healthcare jobs. ‘The GCC region generally depends on expat healthcare professionals to meet the demands of the population, but equally, Saudis need to be encouraged to pursue careers in the healthcare field as it would be dangerous to rely on expat to meet future healthcare needs,’ de Silva added.