NMC CEO: recruiting doctors and nurses top priority and challenge post-scandal

Exclusive: It's 'too early' to go public again at the UAE's biggest private healthcare provider

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Challenges to recruit adequate numbers of doctors and nurses has been the biggest struggle for the UAE's largest private healthcare provider as it triaged corporate scandal and the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, said NMC Healthcare's chief executive.

“My job was to somehow create a chasm between what we were dealing with, with the legal issues and the restructuring issues and the discovery of the fraud, with our 12,000 employees who were in the middle of the worst pandemic the world had seen in 100 years,” Michael Davis told The National's Business Extra podcast.

He described a hiring landscape that was deeply competitive for doctors and nurses during the pandemic, when in major markets around the world, including the UAE, staff were being offered thousands of dollars more on top of their typical salaries to join hospitals.

Mr Davis was promoted to chief executive in February 2020 after three years at the company, coming to the helm at a time when NMC Health was on the brink of collapse after a more than $4 billion debt pile was uncovered in one of the biggest corporate scandals in the country's history.

That history is receding as the new NMC charts a path under a brand new board of directors made up of its biggest creditors and shareholders, while defending its position as the largest private healthcare provider in the UAE.

In March, a restructuring process was completed, a move that allowed 34 NMC companies to exit administration — a signal that jobs and cash flow have been saved. Before that, NMC's business rebounded in the first half of 2021 as revenue beat expectations despite the pandemic headwinds.

Last year, the healthcare provider saw 5.5 million patients, with an even split between adult and paediatric patients.

For now, the company is focused on growth, with no plans to rebrand from the damaged legacy of the company's founder and former joint chairman, BR Shetty, and no immediate plans to go public again, Mr Davis said.

“Having delisted from the London Stock Exchange in April [2020], that was a very difficult and painful journey,” Mr Davis said. “My focus is on continued growth, emerging from the pandemic, retaining our staff, hiring new doctors.

“But [an IPO] is not something that's on the forefront of our mind now.”

NMC Royal Hospital KC. Photo: NMC

NMC owns 65 healthcare facilities in the UAE and Oman, including multi-speciality hospitals, fertility specialists Fakih IVF, cosmetic clinic chain Cosmesurge and long-term rehabilitation and home care brand ProVida.

In terms of growth, the company is looking to bring on more sub-speciality doctors, particularly in treatment areas where patients typically would go abroad. NMC now has a collaboration agreement with Boston Children's Hospital in the US to bring sub-speciality paediatricians to the UAE, a model of care that Mr Davis is looking to replicate.

NMC is also looking to expand its home dialysis service, which grew out of the pandemic when patients were less inclined to leave their homes. More beds are also being added at NMC Royal Hospital and NMC Specialty Hospital in Dubai, where “those hospitals are bursting at the seams”, Mr Davis said.

The company chief is also focused on corporate governance under a new board of directors, which was formed on March 25 and has since met at least three times.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, which had the most exposure among lenders to NMC liabilities — worth $981 million — appointed three of the seven new directors to the healthcare company. Kevin Taylor, group treasurer at ADCB, is now NMC's chairman.

Mr Davis called this new board “an eye-opening experience” — seemingly for everyone involved.

“We have a board that is heavily leaning towards financial restructuring and legal,” he said. "[And] what has been interesting for the board is many of the people that were creditors, who have been so supportive, know NMC from a spreadsheet.”

That impression has become more nuanced as the new board has become acquainted with NMC's role during the pandemic. It has thus far given more than four million PCR tests and administered more than 150,000 Covid-19 vaccines.

“Now they actually see what we're doing, they've gone out to the facilities, they've met some of the clinicians, they've met the employees and it's a new world for them,” Mr Davis said.

The board has “stress-tested the business” and “doubled down”, with the message being “we believe in you, we believe in the company. And we're gonna give you what it takes to make the company successful”, he said.

“It's been really nice to see and to interact with the people that essentially saved the business. There's no other way to say it,” Mr Davis added.

“I think that there's probably no safer investment than NMC at this point, because really, we were able to rip the band-aid off and begin to build a company that we all wanted to work for in the first place.”

Updated: June 01, 2022, 6:25 AM
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