The Saudi health authorities have recently taken an initial step towards the restructuring of the kingdom’s government-run hospitals. In a move aimed at generating additional revenue for public hospitals and easing pressure on the government budget, it was decided that the Jeddah-based King Faisal Specialist Hospital (KFSH) will now on offer its advanced health services at a fee.
According to Arab News, another government-run hospital, the King Khalid Eye Specialist Hospital (KKESH) in Riyadh will soon also start providing specialized treatment to patients willing to pay.
The government-run health care system has traditionally provided free treatment for all residents, both Saudi and expatriate, and for some four million pilgrims visiting the holy sites every year. However, financial constraints are now forcing a re-evaluation of this position.
Opening up the Saudi health sector is a controversial step. Private hospitals claim that allowing state-subsidized hospitals to charge lower fees for specialized services creates unfair market competition. They argue that it might both lower the standard of health care in the country and scare off future private investments.
Responding to private sector concerns, the Amir of Mecca has recently appointed a special committee of hospital administration experts to look into the matter.
The Saudi government has allocated 21.9 billion Saudi riyals ($5.84 billion) from this year’s budget to the development of the health sector. This figure reflects a 10.1 percent increase compared to last year’s budget share. Overall expenditures of the sector in previous years were estimated at SR 24.5 billion, 89.6 percent of which was contributed by the government, while the private sector provided 10.4 percent of the total amount.
There are currently 285 hospitals, both general and specialized, operating throughout Saudi Arabia, with a total capacity of 41,916 beds. Of these, 175 hospitals, or 61 percent, are public facilities run by the Saudi ministry of health, 36 are run by other government agencies, and 80 are privately-owned. Total investments in the private health sector equaled approximately SR 6 billion in 2000, SR 800 million of which were governmental loans. — (MENA Report)
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )