Interview: Dr. Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Obaid Al Saidi

What interim criteria do you feel must be met to meet the long-term objectives outlined in the Oman Health Vision 2050?

AHMED BIN MOHAMMED BIN OBAID AL SAIDI: Over the past few years the sultanate has witnessed a demographic and epidemiological transition. The population of Oman is getting older and the disease profile is showing a predominance of non-communicable diseases. Such a transition has necessitated a revision of the health system. Health Vision 2050 was developed to visualise how we would like our health system to be. Predicting the future of health care can be fraught with uncertainty and risk, especially given the number of forces that affect health care – demographic, political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal and so on. It was thus necessary to extensively analyse the health system, as well as the challenges facing it and expected future demographic, macro-social and macroeconomic developments.

Oman’s government is responsible for more than 81% of total health expenditure in the country. The government is committed to providing health care to all citizens free of charge, and so the population’s expectations, along with escalating costs and advancements in technology, exert a burden on the government to fulfil its commitments. There is therefore a need to develop strategies to sustain financing. Health Vision 2050 included the vision of establishing a social health insurance system, to encourage greater private sector involvement in the sector. In most health systems there are a variety of partnerships between the public and private sectors. These range from outsourcing of services, such as transportation and cleaning, to private hospital networks, both local and foreign. Public-private partnerships are essential for the sustainability of Oman’s health system, and the vision is to have a 50-50 partnership by the year 2050, with the private sector owning and running 50% of health services.

To what extent will the outsourcing of certain services to the private health care sector reduce the burden on government hospitals?

SAIDI: The private health sector provides all types of different levels of curative medical services through clinics, centres, polyclinics and hospitals. Private health establishments include 1093 clinics and 13 hospitals with 517 hospital beds as of the end of 2014. The establishments are run by a total of 8776 health workers, of which 1787 are doctors, 650 are dentists, 1337 are pharmacists and 2650 are nurses. In addition to the existing specialists, a number of specialist consultants visit the sultanate through private centres, polyclinics and hospitals to provide consultations and specialised treatments. These visits have significantly reduced the number of patients seeking medical treatment abroad.

In order to encourage private investment in the sector, the ministry of health provides technical advice and cooperation to private players looking to set up hospitals, clinics and pharmaceuticals endeavours. The ministry also advises private hospitals on protocols about patient care and ensures that the hospitals function within these protocols.

In addition to the above, the government has undertaken strategies to encourage the private sector to invest in health. These strategies include: limiting its package to non-cosmetic services; ensuring that a range of minor surgical procedures for expatriate non-government employees are only carried out in private hospitals; mandating that patients treated in private health establishments requiring laboratory, radiology or similar care procedures should only be referred to other private sector institutions for such procedures; providing soft loans to those interested in investing in the sector; allowing Omani consultants to work in the private sector after working hours; and drug pricing. The ministry has also moved all of its non-medical services to the private sector.