Story of Dr. Azad Moopen
Dr. Azad Moopen, Chairman and Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare: "It is taking much more time to identify the right talent and bring them onboard. One of the most important deterrents is the travel restrictions." Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Recruiting doctors at affordable salary packages will be the biggest challenge healthcare operators in the UAE and Gulf are facing, according to Dr. Azad Moopen, Chairman and Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare.

“We are witnessing an increasing preference among healthcare professionals to opt for the US or UK that offer higher salary packages and perks,” said Dr. Moopen. “This is putting significant pressure as it is also not easy to bring in new staff due to travel restrictions from many countries. These factors are leading to a crunch in an already limited talent pool.

“While every year there is an increase in salary costs, this is the first time that we are witnessing such huge increases.”

Plus, there is the demand for their services within the home countries, and with compensations that can match up to what they might be offered in the Gulf. “Countries like India - from where a majority of healthcare professionals arrive in the UAE - have been facing a major upsurge in the demand for talented healthcare professionals due to COVID-19,” said the chairman of Aster, one of the biggest privately-owned hospital and pharmacy operators in these markets.

A sudden and sharp spike in personnel costs could undermine prospects for the local healthcare market, which is still nursing its way back into financial health after the COVID-19 strike. While all attention was being paid to contain the pandemic, hospitals and clinics in the UAE and Gulf had seen a drastically reduced in-patient visits and elective surgeries take place for four to five months last year. A recovery from those lost revenues will take time.

It is against this backdrop that the rise in salaries and incentives for healthcare professionals should be seen. The competition for talent and experience is acute, both from within the region and from outside. Any new specialty hospital opening anywhere in the UAE and or Gulf represents an opportunity for doctors to seek better terms – and for the existing healthcare operators to try and fill a position that suddenly fell vacant.

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Demand for nurses too

Not just doctors, the pressure on salaries is felt across the board. This is happening for nurses, especially from India and Philippines,” said Dr. Moopen.

But there are also categories where wage inflation has not caught up… as yet. “For dental, we are able to hire without any issues,” he added. “Tele-medicine (or tele-health) may not require more staffing; rather it can reduce the pressure on available doctors and healthcare workers.

“The currently available staff can multi-task and the available time can be utilized more effectively. It will also help to de-stress the system by reducing dependency on physical delivery of services.”

In normal course, cost inflation in the healthcare industry has average 8-9 per cent in recent years. Not just salaries, a firming up in the cost of operations is visible on all fronts, including medical equipment and in the investments needed to update technology.

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While all of the attention is on curbing the COVID-19 spread, the cost of operations are rising significantly for healthcare businesses. The biggest factor remains the pressure on wages. Image Credit: Supplied.

A more lenient view, please

“Insurance companies are not taking this into consideration and the brunt of the problem are faced by the healthcare providers,” said Dr. Moopen. “This is leading to severe stress as we have to increase the salaries to retain staff, but the insurance companies are not allowing any increase in industry tariff. I sincerely hope that the local authorities will interfere and allow inflation-related annual increase in the tariff.”