x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Private health must 'step up to plate' to meet demand

Seha chief issues challenge to create a more competitive market, acknowledging that public hospitals also have to keep pace.

ABU DHABI // The head of the capital's government hospitals has issued a blunt challenge to private health providers, saying they will need to "raise their game" if they want to take business away from the state sector. Carl Stanifer, the chief executive of Seha, said private healthcare groups should "step up to the plate" to increase competition and take some of a growing market.

State-run hospitals provided 58 per cent of all inpatient care and 36 per cent of all outpatient last year. "It's not only the private sector trying to improve their facilities and services, we are doing the same thing," Mr Stanifer said at a public meeting yesterday. "The private sector should step up to the plate and take some of the fast-growing market, but we are not going to lay down and let them have it. We have to raise our game and they have to raise theirs," he said.

He said Seha was building new hospitals and clinics, and expanding services throughout its business to create a more competitive market. Existing hospitals include Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Mafraq Hospital, Al Ain Hospital, Tawam Hospital, Al Rahba Hospital and the Corniche Hospital. Majd Abu Zant, business development manager at UEMedical, a private healthcare investment company based in the capital, said the private sector was more than capable of rising to the challenge. He said consumers were more savvy and would "seek out the better services".

The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi is also keen to increase competition as a way of boosting services. In its five-year strategy, released in 2008, it listed increasing "private sector investment and ownership of healthcare-related infrastructure" as one of its priorities. With the introduction of mandatory health insurance in 2006, demand rose ten-fold. The number of insured people has since jumped from 150,000 to 1.9 million. The predicted doubling of the population over the coming decade is also expected to boost need.

"When [the population] has choice, both sectors are going to raise their game," said Mr Stanifer. "I totally endorse the private sector growth and competition, but they are going to have to take the market share, we will not just sit down on our laurels and let them have it. "If they are gaining parts of the market, everybody benefits." Mr Stanifer was speaking at a public meeting to share details of a new electronic system that tracks the performance of all Seha hospitals and clinics. The Business Intelligence system tracks clinical outcomes, staffing levels, insurance claims and other financial information.

He also suggested that the private sector had more work to do than the public in terms of growth. "They have more of a challenge in competition than we do," he said. "They are going to have to be inventive and creative and address their competitiveness the same as we are. We welcome the competition." However, Mr Abu Zant saidthe figures showed a less rosy picture for Seha facilities. "The public sector has dipped significantly and is losing market share," he said. The overall outpatient market grew by 25 per cent between 2008 and 2009, while the public sector saw an eight per cent increase, he said. The private sector saw an increase of closer to 28 per cent. The private sector was introducing a level of service and high standard that the public could not match, he added.

UEMedical is creating a Health Plus network that includes family clinics, dental centres and specialist fertility clinics. It is also building the Danat al Emarat, a 260-bed women and children's hospital. It will be the only private hospital of its kind in Abu Dhabi. When the private sector is setting new standards, it is not enough for the public sector to rely on its reputation, Mr Zant said. "We are certainly capable of the challenge. We can offer premium services, which the public sector does not," he added.

Antoine Al Achkar, general manager at the Lifeline Hospital Group in Abu Dhabi, said expanding to compete with the public sector was not always easy. "But ultimately it is the public who benefit from competition so it is a good thing," he said. The group is building a new large hospital on Abu Dhabi island and has plans to expand further into some of the industrial areas. @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae