The much-delayed University Hospital – planned as the jewel in the crown of Dubai Healthcare City – is still at least two years away from opening, the free zone's CEO told Arabian Business.
The 400-bed project was put on hold in 2009 after financing dried up due to the global financial crisis.
More than a decade after the free zone was launched, DHCC CEO Marwan Abedin said momentum was now picking up and he expected to announce the first contracts for University Hospital – with an international university that would provide training – in the second or third quarter of 2014.
“We’re in [the process] of concluding those discussions in terms of setting up the structure for the University Hospital to actually proceed,” he said.
“The easy part is building the construction. [What] we’re taking a bit more time to do is actually have discussions with the academic partners who will be involved with us on this project.”
Abedin said he was in discussions with “two or three” international institutions to provide the educational services for the hospital, which was originally due to open in early 2011.
He will travel to those institutions – in the US and Europe – next week.
“We’re currently having discussion with two or three and to see which one we’ll be able to finalise with, which would make sense for them and us as well,” he said.
“We’ll be looking to conclude our discussion somewhere in the second or third quarter this year.”
He is also in talks with three of the world’s largest medical equipment providers.
Construction of the facility will not begin until the training and equipment providers have been confirmed and those companies have been consulted on their requirements within the design of the building, Abedin said.
The hospital would not open before 2016.
“We would look at 2, 2 ½ years approximately,” Abedin said.
“What we’ll try and do most probably is [begin all services] in parallel, but to some degree we can even start a few beforehand because of the structure, but overall we’ll be able to start [in 2-2 ½ years].”
The entire Dubai Healthcare City project, which was supposed to cost $5.3bn when it was launched in 2002, has struggled to reach its goal of being a hub for healthcare, teaching and research.
More than half of the city’s developments were either scrapped or put on hold during the financial crisis.
Clinics such as US-based Mayo Clinic closed in 2009, while the outpatient care centre Dubai Medical Suites was shut down after only six months because it could not attract foreign hospitals to provide visiting specialists in a joint-funding arrangement.
The free zone offered financial breaks and reduced rents to some clinics to encourage them to stay through the economic crisis, but it has been criticised for having as many retail outlets as clinical.
In September 2011, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was brought in to restructure the entire city to move its focus from real estate back to healthcare. Patient statistics since then were not available at the time of publication.
Some projects did survive the economic crisis or have been completed since, including the Mohammed Bin Rashid Academic Medical Centre, a medical library and post-graduate dental school.
In particular, the DHCC is fiercely proud of its Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Medical Simulation Centre, which allows practitioners to practice real operations in a simulated environment. DHCC says its simulator is the best in the region.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.