Saudi healthcare firm eyes new GCC facilities

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(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

A Middle East healthcare provider is eyeing up to four hospital projects across the Gulf as part of its regional expansion programme, the general manager for the group has said.

The Saudi-based Dr Sulaiman Al-Habib Medical Group (HMG), which has seven Gulf medical centres in operation and four under construction, wants to grow its facilities around the region in a bid to tap into the bulging demand for healthcare services.

“Definitely we are planning to expand,” general manager Farhan Qadeer told Arabian Business. “We would like to grow the group. We may build another four hospitals.”

He declined to say where or when the hospitals would open, but hinted that they were likely to be outside of Saudi Arabia in line with the company’s plans to boost its services around the region.

The news comes following an announcement by the group earlier this week about plans to invest AED400m into building a second hospital in Dubai Healthcare City, the UAE’s only medical freezone.

The 200-bed facility, which will be the group’s second centre in the emirate, will provide inpatient and outpatient care and integrate vascular medicine specialities with cardiology and radiology.

The existing UAE centre, which opened in 2005, was the group’s first venture outside of Saudi Arabia.

Executives said there continued to be plenty of demand for healthcare services in the Gulf’s tourism and trade hub, despite the difficulties experienced by the freezone since the financial crisis.

“Our operations here [in Dubai] have been successful,” said Qadeer. “The number of patients is increasing. We used to have 20 per day when we first started, now we have around 900 per day.”

Dubai Healthcare City, which features residential buildings and hotels, has struggled in the wake of the emirate’s real estate crash, which saw house prices tumble more than 60 percent from their peak in mid-2008.

Among the biggest disappointments was the central 400-bed University Hospital, which was hit hard by the construction slowdown, and is yet to schedule a firm opening date.

The free zone has also struggled to retain clinics and smaller brands, which have been squeezed by the tough economic circumstances. US-based Mayo Clinic, one of DHCC’s most prestigious brands, was one of several to shut its clinical practice last year.

In 2009, DHCC also closed its outpatient care centre Dubai Medical Suites (DMS), just six months after its launch. The centre was intended to lure in foreign hospitals.

HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein said in September she would lead an overhaul of the $5.3bn healthcare city, in a bid to attract fresh healthcare brands and increase Dubai’s chances of capturing a slice of the lucrative medical tourism market.

In an emailed statement, the wife of Dubai’s ruler said she would oversee a restructuring aimed at shifting DHCC’s focus away from real estate and back to healthcare.

However, medical services provider Gulf Healthcare International, which has headquarters in DHCC, said the city would need to attract high-profile brands if it was to net a profit from healthcare tourism.

HMG is seen as a reputable brand in the Middle East, developing Saudi’s first healthcare city in Riyadh and its first private centre in Bahrain.

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