Omanis accounted for the lion’s share of outpatient visits recorded by private hospitals around the Sultanate last year, underscoring the increasingly important role that private healthcare institutions play in meeting the healthcare needs of the local population.
According to the 2020 Annual Report of the Ministry of Health, published last week, the country’s expanding network of private hospitals and clinics logged around 1.618 million outpatient visits by Omanis, representing 57 per cent of total outpatient visits estimated at 2.852 million over the course of last year. Expatriates accounted for the balance with 1.233 million outpatient visits, equating to 43 per cent of the total.
The figures bode well for stronger investment in the private healthcare sector as the government, weighed down by budgetary cuts and rising public debt, increasingly looks to the private sector to shoulder part of the sizable healthcare burden.
The uptick in private healthcare demand comes amid a robust expansion of the healthcare insurance services segment in the Sultanate, which was the biggest contributor to gross direct premiums in 2020, with a roughly 33 per cent share (RO 155.193 million), surpassing motor insurance (RO 113.364 million), and property insurance (RO 71.376 million).
Healthcare insurance is projected to grow exponentially when the Dhamani scheme, centring on the introduction of mandatory medical insurance coverage for public sector employees and their dependents, as well as tourists and visitors, comes into effect, starting from later this year.
Starting from the launch of the first private hospital in 1995, private healthcare services have grown significantly over the past 25 years to presently comprise 27 full-fledged hospitals distributed across the Sultanate, in addition to 432 general clinics, 447 specialised clinics and polyclinics, 302 dental clinics, 794 pharmacies, and 49 Chinese and Indian clinics. The total number of hospital beds offered by the private sector has climbed from 985 in 2019 to 1,054 last year.
However, comparative figures for 2019 and 2020 suggest a degree of consolidation, albeit modest, in the overall size and make-up of the private health sector. For example, the total number of ‘Clinics / Diagnostics Clinics’, spanning all of the specialisations, dipped to 1,230 last year, down from 1,254 in 2019. This decline has been attributed by experts partly to the economic slump triggered by collapsing oil prices aggravated by the pandemic, and the resulting outflow of large numbers of expatriates.
However, the size of the workforce employed by private health establishments grew to 14,162 last year, up from 13,414 in 2019. Nurses represented the largest segment (3,960), followed by doctors (2,506), pharmacists (2,050), and dentists (1,127). Omanisation remains at a low 13 per cent in the sector, according to the Ministry.