New medical cities proposed to solve bed shortage in hospitals


Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Public hospitals in various parts of the Kingdom continue to face a severe shortage of beds for patients suffering from chronic diseases despite huge government spending in the healthcare sector.

According to the Ministry of Health, the total number of beds available at 274 hospitals run by the ministry in the Kingdom is 41,835 to serve 31.74 million people. It means only 13 beds are available for every 10,000 people.

An informed source said 11,581 beds are available in hospitals belonging to the armed forces, security forces and universities. In addition, there are 470 private hospitals in the country with 17,428 beds.

“The crisis is continuing at various government hospitals even though the government has allocated SR120 billion for healthcare in this year’s budget,” the source pointed out. Under the current circumstances, patients need the intervention of influential people to get a bed.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has given top priority to healthcare. There is a plan to privatize public hospitals and bring them under specialized companies to rationalize spending and improve services.

Saudi Arabia has the largest healthcare sector in the GCC and it accounts for 48 percent of total government spending on healthcare in the region.

The largest budget allocation in the country goes to the health sector after education. Since 2010, 13 percent of the national budget has been allocated for healthcare.

As part of Vision 2030, the Kingdom wants to create an atmosphere conducive to foreign and domestic investors in the sector. It also wants to increase the private sector participation in the sector from 25 percent to 35 percent by the year 2020 under the National Transformation Program.

A senior Health Ministry official recently told a special Shoura Council session about the ministry’s plan to privatize all government hospitals to enhance efficiency and reduce expenses. The ownership of public hospitals will be brought under state-owned companies, he said.

“The Shoura Council has urged the ministry to provide health insurance to all citizens before going ahead with the privatization plan,” the source pointed out.

About 12 million people including workers in the private sector and their dependent family members are covered by mandatory health insurance.

Shortage of beds at government hospitals is a big problem for patients suffering from chronic diseases and their families, especially due to the lack of specialized healthcare facilities in rural areas.

“My mother is suffering from a chronic heart disease and inflammation in gallbladder,” said Ahmed Al-Harbi while speaking to Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

“I have to take her to the emergency ward of a public hospital almost every day to give her tranquilizers in order to reduce her pain because no beds are available in the hospital,” he said, adding that she needs specialized in-patient care. “But we are unable to find a vacant bed. This has become a big problem for every house having a patient. People have to wait for months to get hospital admission,” he added.

Al-Harbi called for a quick solution to the problem.

Bandar Al-Motairy said one of his colleagues, who required specialized treatment after a traffic accident is still waiting for a vacant bed.

He urged the government to open new medical cities in different regions to solve the bed shortage.

The ministry has proposed five solutions to the bed shortage, which are construction of new medical centers, more health centers, home visits, privatization and one-day surgery.

Chronic patients who fail to receive beds at public hospitals will be treated at private hospitals at the ministry’s expense. The ministry has spent SR718 million toward this last year. It also spent SR1.9 billion for the treatment of kidney patients in private hospitals this year.