The low ratio of Saudi workers in healthcare sector


Al-Watan newspaper

THE most recent statistics on human resources in the health sector, which was published by the Ministry of Health about two years ago, indicate that there is a clear shortage of Saudi cadres in healthcare, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and lab technicians.

The statistics revealed the number of Saudi and non-Saudi workers in the health sector including hospitals under the ministry, the National Guard and other government entities.

When we analyze the data we can find that Saudis represent only 26.7 percent of the total number of doctors in the health sector while the ratio of Saudi nurses stood at 36.5 percent. The percentage of Saudi pharmacists stands at 22 percent, representing graduates of pharmacology faculties. On the other hand, the ratio of support staff including technicians and administrators has reached 74.4 percent.

In order to get a clear picture of Saudi workforce in the health sector, it is essential to shed light on the distribution of the national cadres in various health divisions in the country.

The Ministry of Health represents the largest employer of Saudi health workers as 33.4 percent of doctors, 57.6 percent of nurses and 93.2 percent support staff at its hospitals are Saudi. In hospitals run by the military and security sectors the number of Saudi doctors reached 50.5 percent of the total, while the number of Saudi nurses stood at 14.9 percent, registered pharmacists 65.1 percent, and support staff 70 percent.

In the private sector, which is the largest and most important sector considering the government’s move to privatize public hospitals, we see a huge fall in the number of Saudi doctors and other Saudi health workers despite the fact that many Saudis specialized in the field remained jobless.

Saudi doctors in the private sector account for only 3.3 percent of the total while the percentage of nursing staff stands at 5.3 percent, pharmacists 4.2 percent and support staff 29.9 percent. The data indicates that jobless Saudi health workers can be employed in the private sector if proper measures were taken to Saudize jobs in the sector.

It seems the recommendations of the recent health conference organized by the Health Ministry were adopted without understanding the reality on the ground. Regarding Saudi manpower in the health sector, the conference recommended not to open new public and private colleges of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy for the next 12 years until 2030.

The conference asked the authorities to reduce the intake into bachelor degree programs in dentistry and pharmacy by 50 percent over the next four years until 2022. It also demanded suspension of scholarships for bachelor degree courses in dentistry, medicine and pharmacy.

“Such scholarships should be restricted to postgraduate studies because of an increase in graduates in the above disciplines in excess of labor market requirements,” the conference said, adding that the number of graduates in the above disciplines was more than the training capacity of government and private hospitals.

Lack of training has weakened the capabilities of Saudi medical graduates, thus contributing to their unemployment, the conference observed. However, it called for increasing admission of students to courses in family medicine and nursing.

Now the question is whether these recommendations conform to our aspirations to increase the percentage of Saudi workers in the health sector. Do these recommendations serve our developmental aspirations in light of the overwhelming deficit of Saudi healthcare personnel in the private sector?

We should also study whether there is any actual increase in the number of graduates in the above health disciplines and whether their number stands higher than what is required by the labor market especially when we notice a remarkable fall in the number of Saudi health workers in the private sector.

With regard to the issue of lack of training received by Saudi doctors, we should know that there are 470 hospitals in the Kingdom by the end of 2016 including 274 under the Ministry of Health, 44 with other government agencies, and 152 in the private sector. Are these hospitals not enough to provide training to medical graduates or are the private hospitals exempted from providing training facilities to them?

We pin great hope on the Health, Education, Civil Service and Labor ministries to increase the percentage of Saudi health workers in public and private hospitals. In order to achieve this goal, we have to increase the intake of students in our medical colleges and at the same time employ Saudi graduates in all available positions, offering them attractive salaries and benefits.

Efforts must also be made to provide them with training, workshops and special courses to sit qualifying examinations to obtain professional licenses. This will help reduce the big gap between Saudi and non-Saudi workers in the health sector and achieve our strategic vision.