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At the forthcoming Private Healthcare Summit, taking place on Tuesday June 20th, 2017 at our new venue, the QE II Centre in the heart of Westminster, we'll be taking a close look at what's going on in the GCC markets and how this may affect international patient flows into London.

There are many factors that are driving change in the Gulf. And there are some worrying trends for London hospitals, clinics and consultants that rely on the stream of income from high value medical treatment funded by the government or state employers. As we scan and collect information on what is happening in the world's medical tourism markets for the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ), what is very apparent is the changing nature of the medical tourism market in the GCC region. At the Private Healthcare Summit in London 20th June, you'll hear the views of Graham Elderfied, Director of Glenfield Consulting, and formerly, in charge of organising the treatment abroad programme for the Qatar government.

Here are a few examples of what's happening in some of the key source markets for London's international patient business.

Kuwait

In Kuwait, responsibility for the management of the budget for overseas treatment has been shifted. The Supreme Committee for Overseas Treatment has been closed down;  the final decision on sending Kuwaiti patients for treatment abroad is being moved to special committees within Kuwaiti hospitals. The driver is to reduce expenditure on treatment abroad and to "eliminate the financial burden caused by the supreme committee’s decisions, such as granting overseas treatment privilege to undeserving citizens."

It follows a continuing trend of a reduction in the number of patients sent for overseas treatment. It is reported that the number has been reduced by 50% in recent years. The number of patients sent to London for treatment reduced from 1,100 in 2013 to 500 in 2014.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is now running a $100 billion budget deficit which the government aims to close. So, a five year plan is being developed which aims to encourage Saudi medical tourists to stay at home for their treatment and to attract medical tourists from other Islamic countries to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage has endorsed a proposal that combines religious and medical tourism to promote Saudi health services to the world’s 1.6 million Muslims who may seek spiritual solace during a health crisis.

Bahrain

In 2015, the Bahrain government spent $66 million on foreign care for its citizen, sending around 1,500 citizens overseas for treatment. The government covers the cost of the treatment as well as flights, hotel accommodation and spending money.

In 2016, the Health Minister stated that Bahrain is intending to reduce the number of citizens sent for treatment abroad, by providing more medical services within the Kingdom. Bahrain intends to fly medical experts into the country as part of a cost-saving measure. Doctors from India, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, the UK, Belgium and the US have agreed to take part in the new scheme

And.... Bahrain has identified medical and health tourism as an area it wants to expand, although it is not clear on how it will do this. The government is targeting Russian investors to develop healthcare facilities for medical tourists. With the low price of oil forcing the government of Bahrain to curtail spending and put some long-term projects on hold, it is looking for new income streams.

Demand down, supply up

The picture in the Gulf is one of declining demand from government funded medical tourism and an ambition to increase the supply of services for inbound medical tourists. A fall in demand and an increase in supply can only mean one thing.... increased competition in an already crowded market and further pressure on price in the competing destinations.

Where next...?

International hospitals around the world are looking at new, developing  markets for high value outbound medical travel. Could Russia and China prove to be the solution to the declining numbers from the Gulf? Come to the Private Healthcare Summit to find out.

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About the author

Keith Pollard is CEO of Intuition Communication, an online publisher in the healthcare sector that operates market-leading web portals such as Private Healthcare UK, the Harley Street Guide, HarleyStreet.com and Surgery Door. Intuition is also active in the online medical travel sector through Treatment Abroad, International Medical Travel Journal and DoctorInternet, the Arabic medical tourism portal. View www.keithpollard.com for my full profile.

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