Are Health Professionals The Only Winners in Saudi Healthcare Workforce Crisis?

Aug22

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in dire need of healthcare workforce. This is putting pressure on the health sector in the country and is generally expected to bring negative consequences. Except maybe to healthcare workers themselves.

 

Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the GCC, accounting for approximately 30.7 million people of the over 50 million population of all six GCC countries combined. As well as being the largest nation, Saudi Arabia also has the largest healthcare market, which currently employs 350,000 professionals in health services delivery. This market is far from being stagnant and is expected to grow from USD 16 billion in 2015 to a value of USD 27 billion by 2020.

 

In recent years however the Saudi healthcare market is experiencing what experts define as a true “workforce crisis”, which effectively means that it is becoming increasingly hard for the country to satisfy internal demand of healthcare services, largely due a lack in the human resources / qualified healthcare professionals necessary to deliver healthcare services. The main drivers behind this crisis are large demographic and sector-specific trends. The first and foremost of these trends is the increase in Saudi population. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is currently growing at an annual rate of almost 2% per year, and is expected to reach a total population of almost 37 million people in 2025. This population is currently very young ( only 3% above the age of 65) hence the healthcare needs will not significantly increase immediately, however the aging of the population will carry an increased demand for health services in the near future. With a population growing at this fast pace, the internal Saudi output of graduates in healthcare-related sciences is trailing badly behind needs, leaving a current gap which is likely to widen as years go by, despite the continuous inflow of expat professionals.

Other aspects of this workforce crisis are related to the lower productivity level of healthcare professionals in Saudi, by which it is observed that the Saudi healthcare workforce generates a significantly lower number of both inpatient and outpatient spells per worker if compared to better-organized health systems. To summarize there is now an insufficient amount of healthcare staff to meet the current needs, the gap is likely to increase in the future, the country can't generate enough new staff to satisfy the needs, and is generally insufficiently equipped to face this crisis from an organizational standpoint.

 

This is will carry negative consequences  if not addressed properly by the government, such as longer waiting lists, patchy service delivery, rise in healthcare costs and more. But what impact will this have on health professionals in Saudi?

 

Despite this bleak scenario, it is possible that the net effect on the healthcare workforce will be surprisingly positive. We have tried to summarize what we think might be the impact on the Saudi healthcare employment environment in a few simple point below.

 

  1. A very likely rise in pay levels. By the most basic of market dynamics an increase in demand which is not matched by an increase in supply determines an increase in prices. It can be expected that as healthcare professionals become relatively fewer compared to the population, health providers will have a higher need of them to deliver the healthcare services. This means they will also be willing to pay higher compensation levels to attract and retain top talent.

  2. A possible shift of the workforce towards private providers . As pay levels grow higher, the institutions which are more capable of adapting to the increased pay requirements will attract more staff such as major private Saudi hospital groups. Typically, private providers have more dynamic human resources departments and are more capable of adapting their compensation and benefit schemes to new situations, while government hospitals tend to be slower due to larger administrative requirements and bureaucracy

  3. Increased turnover of healthcare jobs and top talent. As demand grows, the employment environment for healthcare professionals will become more and more demand-driven. Along with the shift in some negotiating power from employers to employees another probable scenario will be an increase in the sheer number of opportunities available for professionals. When the chances of remaining unemployed are so low, and opportunities are so abundant, it can be expected that health professionals will be less reluctant to change jobs if given an opportunity of improvement.

  4. More training opportunities. There are two good reasons for which the shortage of professionals is probably going to bring better training opportunities to people working in healthcare. The first reason is that employers are going to want to improve general working conditions for staff (including training and education opportunities) to increase talent retention, hence will provide more trainings. The second and more relevant reason is that to overcome shortage of qualified professionals, healthcare providers will need to increase productivity, and training staff on advanced techniques and new working models will be paramount to achieve this.

  5. Poaching, headhunting, referrals and new online / smart recruitment solutions for healthcare professionals. With the increase in need for health professionals, limited internal output from health sciences schools, and insufficient external supply from expatriates, the most obvious place to look to source for much-needed new hires for hospitals will be the existing pool of hired resources already in the market. In other words, hospitals and agencies will be more likely to attempt to hire from competitor resources than from the small free circulating talent pool.

  6. Saudization. It is probable that the ones that will likely gain the most from the Saudi health workforce crisis will be Saudi national healthcare workers themselves. The government has made it very clear that one of the top priorities going forward will be to try to satisfy internal demand with national staff, because these resources are more likely to stay in the country if compared to expats. Of all prized healthcare professionals, Saudis will be the ones in highest demand. Hospitals are already subject to Saudi percentages to be met in their overall human resources, and these targets of “Saudization” are likely to remain stable or be increased, creating an even greater demand for Saudis (and higher pays) than any other nationality.

 

GulfSpecialists.com is an online healthcare recruitment marketplace where healthcare professionals and employers in Gulf Countries can register FREE and connect directly regarding job opportunities, without intermediaries of agencies. Major Saudi private healthcare groups  are already posting their job openings on this platform.