THE STAY-AT-HOME PATIENT

Oman 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: PRIVATE SECTOR HEALTHCARE

Improvements in Omani healthcare are starting to materialize due to major investments in the private sector.

The new motto of Starcare Health Systems, “Goodbye to Treatment Abroad,” is a telling sentiment of the necessity to improve Oman's healthcare facilities. For the wealthy, seeking international medical care is less of a problem, but it is not possible for many others. As investments continue to enter the sector, local public and private sector facilities must be developed in alignment with expertise to ensure that timely and high quality services are available for the whole country.

In September 2014, when the fourth Oman Health Exhibition & Conference was held to promote the development of the sector, private sector development was highlighted as a must. Private sector establishments were encouraged to upgrade themselves to meet the demand that the sector is predicted to meet. For the Ministry of Health's upcoming five-year plan from 2016-20 (the eighth so far), spending will increase by 84%, from $1.3 billion in the previous five years, to $6.49 billion. To meet this, estimations predict that the Ministry will need to increase its budget to $12.9 billion, a chunk of which will have to be supported by the private sector.

A new hospital to be set up in Oman by the UK's Starcare Health Systems is one of the facilities that is supporting national objectives. As part of the Group's $129.89 million investment into the Sultanate's healthcare sector, the 250-bed hospital will open in 2017 as a tertiary care facility, providing specialized consultancy and expertise. This is highly important as, although there are arguably a strong number of primary and secondary care facilities in Oman, tertiary care has been somewhat lacking.

Starcare has already been a strong contributor to private sector healthcare since Starcare Hosptial Muscat was established in 2013. According to a Starcare official, around 600 patients are received per day and 300 major surgeries carried out at the 50-bed hospital. The efficiency of the hospital is a confidence boost for local patients, the majority of whom are Omani, while a healthy turnover of between $15.57 million and $25.98 million may encourage foreign investors.

High-end facilities need to be matched with a high level of professional skill, and this also extends into the area of specialty treatment. The Ministry of Health has recognized the necessity to fill this gap, and has partnered with Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK, so that Omani physicians can, according to a Ministry of Health press release, “acquire sub specialty partnership certificates in rare medical specialties.”

The private sector has also contributed in this area. Al Hayat International Hospital hosted the first ever laparoscopic (key-hole) surgery audio-visual workshop in April 2015. The complex execution of mini gastric bypass surgery was demonstrated by Dr. J S Rajkumar, senior consultant surgeon at the hospital to a number of medical professionals from public and private sector hospitals around the country. This type of surgery was only introduced earlier in 2015 at Al Hayat International, and is a demonstration of the leading role that can be played by the private sector.

However, it continues to face its own challenges, a frustrating reminder of the work still to be done. A policy to provide patients with medications had to be cancelled in 2015, as people were taking advantage of cheaper government pharmacy prices. Smaller and less centrally based pharmacies have also faced troubles, as their ability to provide the necessary medication to their clientele has had its obstacles. Mohammad Osama Rawat, General Manager of Oriental Pharmacy, said, "Larger pharmacy chains have ways to manage costs. They have their own premises and storage facilities. In Oman, they are also in the business of supplying medicines in bulk to government healthcare centres. So they are in a better position to survive.”

Hospitals such as Starcare and Al Hayat International have proven that the private sector can contribute significantly to Oman's healthcare sector, while the government has been working hard to cater to the increasing healthcare demands of a growing population. A strong combination of the two is critical to ensure that improvements are made across the sector. The goal must be to ensure that, in the near future, Omani patients will receive all of their treatment in Oman itself.