The quality of health care in Abu Dhabi must be improved to justify the billions of dollars invested in it, Seha’s new chief executive has said.
Dr Gareth Goodier was brought in to lead the company that owns and operates all public hospitals and clinics in the emirate – and improve patient experience across the board.
"The quality [of health care in Abu Dhabi] is good but we expect better because this is a well-funded healthcare system, therefore the outcomes should be comparable with international standards and I don't think they are right now," he told The National.
Improving quality, he said, is all about bench marking and carrying out patient surveys – in fact, the more patients complain, the happier he is.
“I feed off this information. It tells me where I can improve,” he said.
Dr Goodier, an Australian, has a career in senior management positions in Europe and Australia spanning three decades, including projects for the World Bank in Kuwait and Lebanon.
On Wednesday, he announced that the largest hospital in the Emirates, Sheikh Shakbout Medical City, will open in a few months in Al Mafraq.
The hospital, which will cater to Emiratis and residents, will have, among other facilities, 732 beds, two presidential suites and 36 VIP suites, an advanced wound treatment centre, 18 surgical rooms and a natural and premature birth department.
“It is a common belief that all hospitals deliver the same quality of care and that is far from the truth. What we want is standardised, high-quality outcomes, so if you come in you will get the best care whether that is in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or Al Dhafra.
"This [industry] is not like selling cars – it is distressing and emotional and how our staff behave when relatives and patients are in distress or anxious, is an important part of the health service. It is not just the science. There is an art to health care and the staff need to be compassionate and kind," he said.
And with a healthcare budget as large as Abu Dhabi’s, that is the least that can be expected.
“The general feeling, not just my feeling, is that we need to be more efficient and more effective. We need to reduce waste and use the money saved to invest in better care and a better patient experience.
“As a general rule, a day in hospital is way more expensive than a day at a five-star hotel with a 24-hour butler service. Hospitals are incredibly expensive, so if you stay in a hospital for an extra day unnecessarily, that is wasting a lot of money [for the healthcare provider] – money that can be invested in better care for those who are acutely sick.”
Another area where money is wasted, he said, is old infrastructure and facilities. Seha recently invested $750 million (Dh2.75 billion) for its expansion and renovation of Mafraq Hospital.
“As health care has changed over the past two or three decades, the way you design hospitals has changed enormously,” he said. An example of this is a move towards more single-occupancy rooms in recent decades, not because of privacy, but because of disease control.
The size of intensive care units and their design has changed enormously, too, because the equipment needed is now twice the size of what was in use in 2000.
Dr Goodier expects the handover process for SSMC to take nine months to complete, because all equipment must be tested. He also hopes that Seha will be able to open another new institution, Al Ain Hospital, in the next two years.
He said it was often the case with large hospitals that it opening would take two years after the building is finished. “There are a lot of details to check,” Dr Goodier said.
He did not reveal under whose management the hospital will fall, but said that this was an area that the UAE needs to develop further.
“We have put a lot of money in developing our doctors overseas but we haven’t put it into developing our managers. It is one thing to have really good doctors and nurses, but you need to also have high-quality managers.
“That is just a few years away,” he said.