A future shortage of specialised care hospital beds and cancer treatment centres in the UAE has been highlighted in the healthcare industry’s latest financial report.
Experts at investment bank Alpen Capital have compiled the detailed analysis on future healthcare demands, warning of a shortage of nurses and cancer care as areas needing investment.
Increasing demand for chronic disease treatment to cope with the fallout of surging obesity and diabetes is likely to trigger an increase in demand for hospital beds between now and 2021, the report said.
And although Dubai hopes to attract 500,000 medical tourists a year by 2021, cancers, neurological disorders and cardio surgeries require service generation before then.
“Although there is not too much of a gap in the supply of physicians and dentists, there is a sizeable gap in the amount of nurses that are required,” said Krishna Dhanak, executive director of Alpen Capital Middle East.
“Competition is very high to attract staff when there is an oversupply of facilities.
“We are seeing a lot of interest in investing in specialised healthcare centres in the market, such as obesity, diagnostics, post-natal and homecare.”
Alpen forecasted the size of the healthcare industry in each GCC country in terms of Current Healthcare Expenditure on inpatient, outpatient and other services, through to 2022.
The requirement of additional hospital beds across the GCC is based on various socio-economic and healthcare indicators and data from the World Health Organisation, International Monetary Fund and the latest health inflation reports.
Between 2017 and 2025, Dubai will require an addition of more than 3,800 beds, nearly 8,300 physicians and 8,800 nurses, the report said.
Analysts also highlighted the limited number of specialised care centers as an area that needs to be addressed in the near future to keep up with demand.
Although the UAE is establishing its ground as a popular medical tourism destination, most of the treatments undertaken are related to reconstructive, cosmetic and wellness procedures.
For specialised treatments in areas like oncology, cardiology and neurology, many patients travel to Germany, the UK, Thailand and India.
During 2016, Dubai Health Authority spent Dh622.8 million (US$ 169.6 million) on overseas medical treatments, more than double of the cost incurred last year.
Almost 21.8 per cent of patients sent abroad sought oncology treatments, followed by 17.2 per cent for neurology and neurosurgeries and 16.5 per cent for cardiology and orthopaedic procedures.
“There is an oversupply and there is a migration of people back to their home countries, so medical tourism is one area that the government sees can help balance the supply and demand,” said Mr Dhanak.
Current healthcare expenditure in the UAE is projected to grow at rate of 9.6 per cent to US$25.6 billion in 2022, up from US$16.1 billion in 2017.
It is expected to witness the fastest growth in the region, supported by mandatory insurance in Dubai, expanding medical tourism, increasing population and medical inflation.
Healthy living and educational services are also expected to grow at an annual average rate of 7.5 per cent over the forecast period.
“Though traditionally regional governments played an instrumental role in building the sector, shrinking oil revenues have slowed spending,” said Sameena Ahmad, managing director of Alpen Capital Middle East.
“At the same time, the role of private sector is increasing, encouraged by government incentives, mandatory health insurance and other reforms.
“Given the changing demographic and epidemiologic structure, mandatory health insurance, and government initiatives to encourage private sector participation, we expect to see steady growth in private sector investments in the healthcare industry,”
In 2016, a similar analysis by industry experts at Anglo Arabian Healthcare predicted a gross over supply of hospital beds at the current rate of development by 2021.
Anglo Arabian figures suggested a focus on high-end health centres resulting in a shortfall of 700 beds for mid to lower-income earners, assuming the Dubai population grows to 4 million.
If all current projects are completed, there will be 45 hospitals in Dubai by 2021.
“The UAE has moved to greater coverage of its people through mandatory health insurance,” said Mark Adams, the former CEO of Arabian Healthcare, now chairman of the Healthcare Network, a new business model for the healthcare industry combining providers and insurers.
“Whilst not yet covering the Northern Emirates, this is causing issues for the payers with too low a premium level set in Dubai and only recently adjusted minimum levels in Abu Dhabi.
“As a result we are seeing claim rates and operating costs exceeding the limits with losses for insurers, reinsurers and large annual increases passed on for employers.
“With government providers seeing the opportunity of attracting private patients you are now seeing government funded hospitals and clinics actively targeting the private patients in an already oversupplied private sector.”