Growing demand and public-private partnerships to boost Saudi healthcare sector

National Transformation Plan calls for increasing private healthcare expenditure from 25 per cent to 35 per cent of total healthcare expenditure.

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Rising demand for healthcare services in Saudi Arabia and government initiatives to boost public-private partnerships are set to create significant investment opportunities in the country.

As the kingdom’s young population ages, people between the age of 40 and 59 will increase 1.5 times by 2035, creating the need for additional healthcare facilities in the country, according to a report by Knight Frank. A gradual increase in healthcare coverage will also spur demand.

“Over the next decade, population dynamics are forecast to shift with a significant increase in the population over 40,” Gireesh Kumar, senior manager of healthcare at Knight Frank, said. “This indicates an expected increase in the burden of lifestyle diseases and the associated co-morbidities which would trigger an upsurge in demand for highly specialised medical and surgical care in the Kingdom.”

As part of the kingdom’s push for economic reform, the government's National Transformation Plan has prioritized the healthcare sector on a fast-track towards privatization, offering new opportunities for existing operators and new investors. London-listed NMC Health, the UAE’s biggest healthcare provider by market value, is planning acquisitions worth up to $800 million (Dh2.9bn) this year and looking for growth opportunities in Saudi Arabia among the other Gulf markets.

The country’s population over the age of 60 will increase more than three-fold by 2035, thereby increasing demand for health services and broader specialist care.

The kingdom will require an additional 5,000 hospital beds by 2020 and 20,000 beds by 2035 to meet the expected population growth, according to the report. The gap between forecasted demand as the population ages and the necessary healthcare facilities creates opportunities for investment in additional facilities.

Saudi Arabia faced a shortage of 14,000 hospital beds in 2016 and this is expected to widen to 40,000 by 2035, the report said.


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The biggest opportunities for healthcare investments lies in the kingdom’s holy cities and economic zones, where facilities are lower than the national average and significantly below the global average, according to Knight Frank’s study.

Investing in upgrades to healthcare facilities in the holy cities, coupled with the relaxation of visa requirements, could unlock opportunities for medical tourism as pilgrims pour in for Hajj and Ummrah.

“Assuming adequate infrastructure is in place, these cities are uniquely positioned to cater to the spiritual and medical requirements of the population,” the report said. “This would appeal to a significant number of Muslims who would consider benefiting from spirituality and holiness of these cities whilst being treated.”

Saudi Arabia's government has taken several initiatives to reshape the healthcare sector with regulations that encourage private sector investment.

As in other GCC states, the government has also rolled out mandatory health insurance to private sector employees and their dependents in the kingdom, which will boost demand for healthcare services, the report said.

The National Transformation Plan has set out targets for the healthcare sector to meet by 2020 including increasing private healthcare expenditure from 25 per cent to 35 per cent of total healthcare expenditure.

The allocated budget for healthcare under the plan stands at 23 billion riyals, of the total 268bn riyals by 2020, which is the fourth largest area of spending under the plan.

Healthcare remains the third largest area of government spending following military and education, accounting for 15 per cent of total expenditures in the 2018 budget.