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Qatar's National Health Strategy

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()  | Tags: Healthcare, Qatar

On April 3rd, 2011, Qatar unveiled their ambitious National Health Strategy 2011-16 (NHS). The six year plan is designed to transform Qatar’s existing medical infrastructure into a comprehensive and integrated world-class healthcare system, accessible to all, that will generate the positive health outcomes set about in the development plan named Qatar National Vision 2030. The strategy was the result of comprehensive year-long consultation and was officially endorsed in December 2010 by Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health (SCH). The Qatari government has set aside QR 608 million (USD 167 million) for the NHS’s management operations.

Qatar’s healthcare system currently faces several major challenges, which the national health strategy needs to address. Qatar’s reported healthcare spending has quintupled since 2001 to QR 4.33 billion (USD 1.2 billion). Spending per capita has risen from QR 1,581 (USD 434) in 2001 to QR 4,383 (USD 1204) in 2007, demonstrating that there is a mismatch between the population’s healthcare needs and the current system. There is no unified regulatory framework, health policy or medical performance oversight in Qatar. The current care model is imbalanced towards providing acute tertiary care. This is reflected in Qatar’s public health morbidity and mortality statistics, which record that the majority of deaths are being caused by chronic diseases, injuries, and illness linked to lifestyle and behavior factors that are largely preventable. Shortages in quality healthcare professionals across the health sector are pronounced and efforts to recruit, particularly for private practice, have not thus far succeeded. In addition to this shortage in experienced personnel, the rapid growth and aging of the population is placing an increasing burden on the existing healthcare infrastructure, leading to longer waiting times or treatment and growing dissatisfaction with Qatar’s medical providers.

The NHS has outlined several principal goals in reforming the healthcare system, with 35 individual development projects drafted to achieve the goals. As illustrated in the NHS’s executive summary, primary healthcare will be made the foundation of the new strategy, shifting from the predominantly hospital-based curative care system into a more integrated community-based model. Primary care centres will develop into the first medical point of contact within the Qatari healthcare system. When treatment is required, primary care centers will provide appropriate quality service and better direct and coordinate the patient’s other options in the healthcare system.

Health provision in Qatar will become truly comprehensive and better integrate physical and mental curative and preventive healthcare, differentiating between the different medical needs or men, women and children. Hospital services will become better delineated and optimized within a new clinical services framework. To continue to meet the acute care needs of the population, several hospitals, including Heart, Dukhan, Wakra Hospital and Hamad Medical City, are set to be opened within the next few years. The projected increase in hospital beds, from 2.4 to 4.4 beds per thousand people, will reduce waiting times and prevent cancellation and postponement of surgical treatment.

According to the NHS, a more integrated system for healthcare services in Qatar should establish a stronger focus on improving quality of service. This would be done through standardization, the implementation of advanced technological management programs, such as disease supervision projects, e-health systems and medical data tracking, and further developing strategies to encourage private sector involvement in Qatari healthcare. The SCH will take on more advisory responsibility in the healthcare sector, ensuring that all public health facilities meet clinical guidelines based on international best practices, refined for the local environment. Innovation and quality of health service execution will be better recognized. The level of service for local medical service businesses will be more frequently evaluated and published to allow the public to make informed decisions when selecting healthcare providers.

To address the shortage in healthcare professionals in Qatar, the NHS recommends improving compensation benefits and packages for recruits and to also consider adopting more flexible working arrangements. Although the NHS is interested in increasing its domestic workforce, Qatar continues to depend on expatriate medical staff and therefore must engage in aggressive recruitment in the international market. Only 5 to 10 percent of employees in the medical sector are Qatari. The NHS is looking to improve and expedite the professional licensing and immigration process to enable more dynamic movement into the healthcare sector. Further human resource legislation will be amended to enable professional development and increase retention opportunities for expatriates. So far, human resource laws capping public health salaries and requiring certain administrative positions are filled by Qataris have only made developing a quality workforce more difficult in the country and must be adjusted to remain competitive.

To maintain a high standard of professional healthcare recruits, the NHS will help develop a centralised human resources program. The Qatar Council for Health Practitioners (QCHP) will be administered under the SCH to regulate health professionals and processes, including education and health promotion, registration and licensing, appraisal, and disciplinary action

The Qatari healthcare system will remain affordable through a new healthcare-specific budgeting process. The plan will develop a comprehensive multiyear budgeting program for public health sector spending that includes activity-based costing, which will enable must tighter scrutiny of cost data. Attached to this will be a centralized healthcare infrastructure master plan and a committee tasked with keeping a check on public spending. Without proper oversight, it has not been possible to adequately compare costs between health providers or identify best practices. The NHS also calls for more efficient management and compensation of treatments done abroad and to negotiate volume contracts to control cost.

To further control costs, the NHS will help lay the foundations for Qatar’s national insurance scheme. Several other GCC nations have introduced public health insurance schemes and Qatar has been developing their own. Once initiated, the payment and reimbursement mechanisms put in place to support a compulsory health insurance system will increase transparency with regard to health expenditures throughout the system.

Finally, in addition to this pronounced focus on infrastructure development, Qatar will prioritize advanced medical research, with the goal of shifting from a knowledge-borrowing nation into becoming a knowledge-producing one. The NHS will establish a unified government research body to develop better coordination and sufficient funding in many different medical fields and to enable the capacity for world class research in Qatar..

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