MAY 14, 2023

Retirements, expansion of health sector causing severe staff shortage

Muscat – The sultanate is facing a severe shortage of health professionals due to retirements and rapid expansion of the healthcare sector, according to H E Dr Hilal bin Ali al Sabti, Minister of Health.

The announcement was made when H E Dr Sabti was hosted by Majlis A’Shura on Sunday to discuss issues such as universal health coverage, human resources in the health sector, and financing the healthcare system and its digital transformation.

In the minister’s statement, he said, “The Ministry of Health (MoH) is working to enhance decentralisation of health services by providing specialised services in referral hospitals, adding approximately 240 new services.”

On the issue of long waiting list at hospitals, he said the ministry is working to speed up appointments. “However, there is a severe shortage in the number of health personnel due to retirements and expansion of the health sector.”

He pointed out that the total number of workers in the ministry in 2021 was 37,732, a decrease of 2.2 per cent year-on-year, while the Omanisation level was 73 per cent for all category of workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the exacerbation of the problem of the long waiting periods and postponement of outpatient appointments and surgeries. “The ministry made many urgent interventions which yielded positive results.”

Currently 70 per cent of patients are able to get appointments within four weeks, compared to 30 per cent earlier.

Explaining reasons behind the shortage of medicines, he said it was due to a 15 per cent increase in the number of health clinics. “The ministry has increased reserve stocks of medicines and raised the budget for medicines and medical supplies to RO10mn to ensure availability during emergencies and stave off the effects of epidemics and disasters,” he said, adding that the ministry maintains a reserve stock for three to six months of vital and life-saving items.

The number of patients who were sent abroad for treatment last year was 1,040, an increase of 14.9 per cent compared to 2019. The ministry is working to localise health services by training medical personnel and providing necessary equipment.

Giving an overview of health infrastructure, he said that 13 hospitals, with capacity ranging between 50 and 700 beds, are under various stages of development, taking the number of hospitals affiliated to the ministry to 64. “Eighteen primary healthcare centres are being established or upgraded to meet the demand of the rising population.”

The ministry is also working on expanding five hospitals with around 600 additional beds, upgrading the facilities of three health centres to hospital category, and establishing and expanding eight emergency units and nine dialysis units.

Among the new projects being developed are a central laboratory, a regional warehouse in Musandam, two drug rehabilitation centres in Muscat and North Batinah, and a national centre for organ transplantation.

Oman currently has seven pharmaceutical factories and seven medical supply factories. Seven pharmaceutical factories and two factories for medical supplies are under construction.

“In preparation for the next Five-Year Plan for the health sector, we are currently assessing urgent needs of all wilayats and governorates to raise the quality of services based on the principle of easy access to service in the shortest possible time,” he said.

Source: Muscat daily