How to make privatization of healthcare sector a success?



THE recent move by the Ministry of Health to privatize healthcare services in the Kingdom is no doubt a positive one. It has even obtained the support of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman.

Under this step, the work of the ministry will be corporate. The hospitals and the health centers will be detached from the ministry and made into public companies, which will compete under the parameters of quality, competence and productivity.

Under this measure, the ministry will give up its role as a service provider to become a supervisor and an organizer, which will give it a more professional, comprehensive and flexible role.

The privatization of the health sector will reduce the government's administrative and financial burdens. It will also further boost healthcare services being provided to the citizens.

In a statement, the ministry said: "The change into companies is aimed at adopting the methods of the private sector in boosting quality, raising productivity, reducing waste, expediting the process of decision making and achieving decentralization. The quality of services will be improved and they will be provided at the right time and place."

The ministry also said the services will be integrated. Primary care, general and specialized hospitals will serve groups of people ensuring them with comprehensive curative and preventive healthcare.

Of course privatization is a good move and may be a better option to overcome the hurdles of financing and prevent wastage.

This will also improve the performance of the hospitals and health centers by good governance and close supervision of their finances, especially that they will be looking for profitability and continuity amid razor sharp competition.

This simply means the patients and their families will have many options to choose from without worrying for finding a bed or obtaining a wasta (an intermediary) to obtain admission into hospitals.

The clinics and hospitals will have one option only, which is distinct service that will ensure them with customers. The door to this will be improvement of services and a commitment to the highest international standards.

They will also have to make available the most modern medical equipment and the state-of-the-art technology required by doctors.

Hospitals and health centers will also compete by employing the best consultants, specialists, nurses and technicians.

However, there is fear that these hospitals and health centers might change into commercial institutions looking for profits at the expense of quality. They might also connive among themselves to raise prices similar to what had happened between the dairy producers and grain importers.

Another hazard of the privatization of the health sector is that some hospitals might require patients to undergo unnecessary examinations and lab tests to make more money.

The ministry has previous experience in this regard especially with regard to emergency cases referred to private hospitals. On receiving the bills from these private hospitals, the ministry discovered that a large number of tests done for the patients were unnecessary.

The success of the healthcare privatization depends largely on the success of the ministry in becoming an umbrella for the new health companies and existing private hospitals.

The ministry should monitor the prices to prevent any exaggeration and should also make sure that the services provided to the patients are of high quality. It should also make sure that the patient is not burdened by unnecessary tests.

The privatization will become fruitful only when the ministry has effectively assumed its supervisory role, otherwise the situation will degenerate into zero point.

The ministry should take into consideration that a number of public institutions that were privatized had failed and were taken over by the government. This should not happen to the hospital companies.