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Saudi Healthcare: Moving Forward, Challenges and Policy Focus

Article-Saudi Healthcare: Moving Forward, Challenges and Policy Focus

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Improving the quality of services provided to patients is a major focus, with the goal of implementing consistent protocols and pathways for treatment.

As the population of Saudi Arabia continues to grow, expected to increase from 33.5 million in mid-2018 to 39.5 million in mid-2030, the Saudi government has been faced with a rising number of challenges regarding its healthcare system.

In 2015, residents from overseas amounted to 30 per cent of the population of the Kingdom and as the country continues to attract international businesses, foreign direct investment and international tourism, this will continue to rise.

The Healthcare Transformation Strategy, managed by the Ministry of Health's Vision Realisation Office (VRO), draws a roadmap toward overcoming these challenges in line with international standards and has become a major pillar of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan. 

The VRO has laid out key themes to direct policy such as financial reforms, workforce development, digital transformation, and provider reform.

The Health Sector Transformation Programme will be launched in 2022 to ensure the continued development of healthcare services in Saudi Arabia and focus efforts on this vital sector. The Coronavirus pandemic was one of the first major focuses of the Health Sector Transformation Programme, feeding into the response to the health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic as well as overcoming the crisis and its challenges.

Already, the health sector has achieved many accomplishments such as improving the quality and efficiency of health services and facilitating access to them through focusing on digital transformation and launching a package of applications, such as Sehhaty and Mawid, and increasing the service coverage in all the Kingdom’s regions.

The Health Transformation Programme will work on enabling comprehensive transformation in the sector and restructuring into a comprehensive, effective, and integrated system that can address key challenges such as lack of access to medications, inconsistent delivery of care and lack of consistent clinical guidelines. 

A fundamental focus of the programme is boosting public health and disease prevention, in addition to improving access to health services through optimal coverage, comprehensive and equitable geographical distribution, and expanding the provision of e-health services.

Rates of avoidable injury and non-communicable disease remain high by regional and international standards, and while the Kingdom has made notable progress in improving the health of its population over recent decades, particularly in areas of child and maternal mortality and the reduction of communicable disease, areas of concern now include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, mental health, road traffic accidents and congenital diseases, all of which are manageable. 

One of the areas to address will be the outbreak of communicable diseases. These will look at sub-areas such as contagious diseases at Hajj or following man-made or natural disasters. 

The Ministry of Health notes that primary care is a key focus moving forward with investments being carried out across the kingdom to enhance the distribution of secondary and tertiary hospitals and associated resources. 

Steps will be taken forward to augment the capacity in extended care services such as rehabilitation, long-term care and home care. Greater distribution of services will be made available across Saudi Arabia to ensure those in remote areas get wider access to care options. 

Improving the quality of services provided to patients is a major policy focus, with the goal of implementing consistent protocols and pathways for treatment, and more complete measurements of patient processes and outcomes.

Financially, the health system will also support the containment of public expenditure and the diversification of the Saudi economy, as per the Vision 2030 plan. This is needed to address the risk of long-term reductions in the price of crude oil and the impact that will have on public revenues. Attracting investment into the sector will be a key goal moving into the next phase to align with the wide-ranging reforms. 

As the system moves forward, it would be a key priority to have more staff to match the population size and recruit a larger number of Saudis who can take healthcare into the future as it moves into a new era of digitisation, offering hope for the betterment of the country’s people. 

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