Saudi Arabia healthcare sector faces 20,000 hospital bed shortfall by 2035

21 June 2018 3 min. read

Global real estate consultancy Knight Frank has sparked alarm in Saudi Arabia by projecting a shortage of five thousand hospital beds in the Kingdom in just two years, and the need for an additional 20,000 beds by 2035 due to shifting demographics and an aging population.

The Knight Frank report, which drew from an assessment from research and analysis consultancy Oxford Economics, estimated that well over half the Saudi population will be over the age of 40 by 2035, with nearly 15 percent in the senior bracket above 60 in this time – representing a more than three-fold increase. As it stands, the Kingdom’s population is around the 32.5 million mark, with 70 percent of its citizens under the age of 40.

Accordingly, Saudi Arabia will require an additional 20,000 hospital beds by 2025 based on the Kingdom’s current density of beds, with 5,000 needed by 2020 alone. The Kingdom, however, presently has a low density rate (2.2) compared to the global average of 2.7 beds per 1,000 residents, adding up to an existing gap of 14,000 hospital beds in 2016 – which would expand to 40,000 by 2035 should the sector not accommodate the projected population growth.

The required expansion to healthcare infrastructure, which is a goal cited as in line with the national Vision 2030 agenda, has been calculated at an investment cost of around SAR250 billion – with increased privatisation a key focus of the Kingdom’s National Transformation Plan. “Healthcare is undergoing a transformation phase. A long-term view and thorough research must to be taken while investing in the sector to ensure investments match current and forecasted demand,” said Shehzad Jamal, Partner at Knight Frank Middle East.An aging Saudi Arabia faces 20,000 hospital bed shortfall by 2035Speaking with, Jamal added that certain other factors also need to be considered when discussing a shift in population demographics. "The current healthcare infrastructure and services in the Kingdom are tuned to cater to a young demographic. With a forecasted one and a half times increase in population over 40 and a three-fold increase in population over 60, by year 2035, demand for health services such as anti-ageing, regenerative medicine, life style related diseases, geriatric care and rehabilitation services will witness a significant increase.”

The release of the Knight Frank report has prompted widespread local commentary, including a response from rival real estate firm Colliers International which believes that the initial projections are an underestimation. With population growth currently at 2.56 percent, Colliers’ analysis pegs the future hospital bed requirement at 7,800 by the end of this decade and a total of 32,000 beds by 2030 alone – more than fifty percent greater in number than the Knight Frank forecast to 2035.

“The growing population is the key driver, but you also have to look at the changing composition of the population which will dictate the types of bed required,” Mansoor Ahmed, director for health care, education and PPP at Colliers said. “Between 2015 and 2050, about 21 million children will be born in KSA, creating demand for health-care facilities and services relating to mother and childcare, such as obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics.”

And not just beds, Colliers’ notes, but a significant increase in medical practitioners – doctors, nurses, specialists and technicians – will also be required to overcome the heath-care shortfall; including some 10,000 doctors by 2020 and twice that by 2030. “There is a direct correlation between number of beds and medical staff,” Ahmed said, adding that the Kingdom should also focus on developing centres of excellence designed for daycare surgery to reduce the need for longer-term bed space.

Speaking with Arab News, Hamish Clark, a partner in PwC’s Middle East Health Industries practice, suggested however that the bed shortages may not be as grave as forecast if the government push to promote healthier lifestyles is successful – reflecting the growing trend toward prevention models in healthcare planning. “In many ways, this old way of thinking that hospital beds equal health may apply to older health systems, but in Saudi Arabia that is not the case,” Clark said.