MOH Imposes Tighter Controls On Licenses For New Clinics

RIYADH, 10 August 2003 — In a move to promote Saudi participation in the health sector, especially in terms of owning and operating health clinics in the Kingdom, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has imposed tighter restrictions on the issuance of licenses.

The ministry said that it “will no longer issue licenses for expatriate doctors to own and operate private clinics or hospitals.” Applications by Saudi doctors seeking licenses, however, will be entertained by the MOH according to the regulations and provisions, said an MOH official.

“The opening of private health facilities will be allowed only for Saudi doctors and preference will be given to Saudi doctors who are willing to open clinics or hospitals in remote cities and villages, where there are no such facilities,” said Dr. Ibrahim ibn Abdullah Al-Shuwair, MOH’s director general of medical licenses.

Referring to existing regulations allowing foreigners or non-Saudi doctors to invest in the health sector, Dr. Ibrahim said that the move would not affect the foreigners’ investment nor would it hamper investment plans of non-Saudis in the health sector. He pointed out “Foreign capital can be invested in private hospital projects according to the guidelines issued by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), which gives definite control and powers to operate a health facility to a foreign investor.”

The Kingdom welcomes investment in the health sector, according to the foreign investment regulations issued by SAGIA. “Without prejudice to the requirements of regulations and agreements, the SAGIA will issue a license for foreign capital investment in any investment activity in the Kingdom, whether permanent or temporary,” said an SAGIA booklet. The booklet includes the Foreign Investment Act, SAIGA Statutes and its Executive Rules. The restrictions imposed on foreigners in terms of owning and operating health clinics will also promote Saudization in private hospitals and clinics. “Saudi doctors will only be allowed to open clinics after final approval of the minister of health,” said the MOH official.

According to an MOH report, the total number of government and private hospitals in Saudi Arabia exceeds 320 with 46,840 beds. This includes 189 government hospitals. These numbers are in addition to nearly 4,000 clinics owned and operated by Saudis and foreigners. These clinics are staffed mostly by professionals from around the world. More than 31,402 physicians, which includes the small number of 6,218 Saudi doctors, are currently employed by the 320 government and private health facilities. This does not include the number of workers and paramedical staff employed by private clinics throughout the Kingdom.

The hospitals, including both public and private ones, also employ some 66,493 nurses. The number of Saudi nurses is negligible. Pharmacies in these hospitals and clinics are also staffed mostly by foreigners. The Kingdom currently provides a hospital bed for every 457 persons and a doctor for every 673 persons. Saudi participation in the health sector, especially in terms of percentage of jobs, has been minimal.

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