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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 September 2020

Covid-19 has highlighted the need for transformation in our healthcare system

The UAE is home to world-class patient care and the pandemic has underlined that
Medical staff guide people waiting to be tested at one of Seha's screening centres in the Mussafah Industrial Area of Abu Dhabi on May 6. Victor Besa / The National

The global pandemic has affected almost every country in the world, reached almost every community and affected almost every industry in some shape or form. For the healthcare sector, it has been a period of intense pressure – one that has had short and long terms consequences for how we deliver care and further evolve.

Thankfully, with the support of the nation’s leadership, Abu Dhabi and the UAE have delivered robustly, with international observers like the Deep Knowledge Group ranking the UAE 11th globally for its response.

We also owe our enduring thanks to those on the front line. At Seha, our teams have worked tirelessly, sacrificed much and provided incredible care. We have responded to the challenge, whether working with partners to build field hospitals in record time, setting up screening facilities or using innovations like telemedicine and healthcare apps to find effective solutions.

Such significant shifts and major organisational changes will have a lasting affect on the industry. But what is clear above all else is that the transformation that was under way at Seha before the pandemic now all the more essential.

Covid-19 has shown us that we are capable of agility, innovation and responsiveness. It has helped us think about the future through a different lens. But for our partners in government and I, it has underscored how important the journey of transformation is for our organisation.

To realise the government’s ambitions for health care in Abu Dhabi and build a sustainable healthcare network for the future, it is vital that we embrace the change agenda.

A nurse in a general ward of a field hospital in Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi on May 13. Antonie Robertson / The National

As the backbone of the healthcare system, we have a responsibility to rise to this challenge. This has meant adopting new organisational models, looking again at performance and making strategic investments and cultivating partnerships for the future, like the joint venture with Mayo Clinic to operate Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City.

Residents queue at the sanitising gate of a Seha healthcare facility before they enter the main tent for screening, in Mussafah Industrial Area, Abu Dhabi on May 6. Victor Besa / The National

Change will at times also mean taking difficult decisions as we realign our business in a way that puts patients at the heart of everything we do. This includes being more focused on productivity and efficiency so that we allocate the government’s resources in the most effective way.

This journey is not new for us, but the pandemic has shown once again that decision making is vital in the interest of the bigger picture, especially when our sector faces a number of challenges – whether an ageing population, increasing costs of treatment or new complex medical procedures.

All this adds pressure to healthcare systems. Health expenditure is expected to rise to $26 billion (Dh95.5 billion) by 2028, accounting for 3.6 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, as per a forecast by the research company Business Monitor International.

Abu Dhabi is not alone in grappling with the best model to meet these changing needs. It is therefore imperative to deliver on the mandate the government has empowered us to realise: a health system fit for the 21st century that puts patients first; healthcare professionals raising the bar of quality; and adoption of innovative technologies for prevention and treatment of disease.

To deliver on these goals, we need the best talent. During the pandemic, we brought in additional resources to meet the needs of the community. We created significant capacity in a matter of weeks with almost 11,000 new beds at our field hospitals and numerous isolation/quarantine facilities, while also maximising capacity at existing Seha healthcare facilities. But as the pressure of Covid-19 diminishes, it is important that we get back to our natural size.

This process also means looking at the skill mix of our future workforce. We need specialists who fit the profile of a modern, progressive healthcare network. This includes opportunities for our talented UAE nationals, who will continue to play an essential role in delivering care for the community.

Seha’s Covid-19 drive-through testing centre in Ras Al Khaimah on April 30. Reem Mohammed / The National

This is particularly important because the pandemic has underscored how innovation and technology are shaping health care. Areas such as data analytics have played a vital role in tracking and modelling the coronavirus.

We have also seen how remote healthcare delivery has changed people’s expectations and how service innovations like our telemedicine operation have been hugely popular, with more than 201,000 tele-consultations since its launch in March. In addition, advances in bio-tech, drug discovery and medical procedures are reshaping care models.

It is in this context that we have been pursuing a transformation strategy at Seha for the past several years. With Covid-19 moving to the rear view mirror, we must accelerate this process. This is the only way we can deliver our number one priority: world-class patient care.

Communities across Abu Dhabi and the UAE rely on us to realise the vision of the nation’s leadership. The pandemic has taught us that and shown us what we always knew to be true; that Seha is capable of delivering remarkable medical care. We are now galvanised by the opportunity to bring this energy to realise the next phase of our evolution.

Dr Gareth Goodier is the group chief executive of Seha

Updated: July 21, 2020 09:04 AM