Revamping the health sector
Undoubtedly, the revamp of two ministries — health and education — will continue to pose a major challenge in the years to come. This past weekend, the health minister issued a stern warning to his partners in the private health sector. “If they don’t improve (their) performance, their names would be made public immediately,” the minister was quoted as saying in a section of the press. The tone may have been harsh but we strongly believe that only such a strict approach can help reshape the health sector for the better.
The private sector health facilities basically operate on a commercial basis. They work as business organizations offering health services with the sole aim of making profits. Most, if not all, of them are more interested in monitoring prices, quotas of lab tests, X-rays and admissions more than following the highest global standards in providing top quality health care services.
It is really irritating to pay hefty amounts to the insurance companies only to experience illogical and meaningless procedures at these hospitals. “You need to pay extra to see the consultant, Oh … that doctor is not covered by the insurance … pay cash or leave, or still wait for a couple of months to see your doctor … there are no available appointments!”
These are common responses to one’s general queries at various private sector health facilities. Now, having said that, the situation in the public sector hospitals is not that encouraging either. There is an apparent shortage of hospitals and doctors, medical staff, beds, and overall quality of services. I discussed this issue with a friend who works in a public hospital in Jeddah. He admitted that they were facing a lot of challenges. “It is difficult to provide your best when you are under pressure,” he lamented.
“The number of patients I have to see, the admitted patients I have to supervise, the emergency cases I have to attend to gives me no time to think creatively or out of the box, I stick to the basics, numbers became a crucial KPI, numbers not quality of service!”
I believe this is the real challenge the health minister has to deal with. I guess the first thing that came to our minds when we read the minister’s statement about the quality of service in the private hospitals was: “What about the public hospitals then?”
The sad truth is that comparing our hospitals’ performance with the international standards of quality, safety and efficiency would most probably yield disappointing results. To take an interesting example, in the top 10 hospitals in the Arab World, according to the Webometrics Ranking of World Hospitals 2015 conducted by Cybermetrics Lab, we have five Saudi hospitals in the list, none of them is in the private sector nor administered by the Ministry of Health, they were either governmental agencies themselves like the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center and The Royal Commission Hospital in Jubail, or were administered by the army or the national guard like Riyadh Military Hospital and the Saudi Arabia’s National Guard Health Affairs Hospital.
It is early to judge the efforts of the incumbent health minister but I am sure he can bring a lot of his experience to the ministry, particularly the importance of planning and long-term strategy. After all, most of the issues faced by our ministries are related to long-term strategies; every time a new name presumes the helm of a certain ministry, he almost starts from zero, reshaping teams and plans, reshuffling priorities and coming up with a new vision.
It is time to think strategically and to take steps to resolve pending issues.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view