Through my travels in the Gulf countries, I have had the opportunity to exchange many thoughts and ideas on a wide range of issues. A topic that has come up for discussion on more than one instance is the quality of medical services in the countries I was visiting. In almost every instance, when this particular issue was brought up, the discussion was not in a complimentary light. Bear in mind that such feelings were generic across the Gulf countries I was in.

Sooner or later, most of us have to seek some medical attention. And it is during those times that those who are not covered by an employer’s medical insurance scheme or patients who can ill-afford another expense on their shrinking wallets resort to treatment at government-run hospitals and clinics, where there are no threats of large medical bills.

A walk through some of these institutions could be a test of patience, though. Although the structure of the building may be adequate, many decry that the services provided are far from it. In Saudi Arabia, many of the state-run medical facilities have come under repeated fire in the media for their poor standard of medical attention and follow up. From inadequate facilities to faulty diagnosis to lack of medicines, many a patient is left wanting for suitable medical care. Enough tales of woe and shoddy treatment at these institutions have prompted the Ministry of Health to sit up and take note.

What about the privately-run hospitals then? Well, let me begin by saying that these hospitals have become big business enterprises. With capital investment running into hundreds of millions or less, the bottom line is profit — the ignoble pursuit of wealth. Proper care and a speedy recovery are often an afterthought. After all, how is any hospital expected to recoup its expenditure on facilities and interior decoration worthy of any five-star hotel? Let the patient pay for it!

These hospitals spend big bucks on facilities and equipment; yet uphold an unwritten policy of hiring cheap labour. The adage that ‘when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ applies to some of these institutions. The analogy would be similar to purchasing a Rolls Royce or a Bentley and then recruiting a chauffeur for a pittance to drive you around in it.

The incomes of doctors and supporting staff are often governed by their ability to sell unnecessary services. Multi-testing is conducted for the simplest symptoms. Medicines are prescribed without proper understanding of their effects or interaction with other medicines. In fact, some doctors are ardent salesmen of pharmaceutical companies.

We are slowly being metamorphosed into pill-poppers, who will not be properly satisfied unless we walk out with a prescription of no less than five or six different medicines. Anything less and we look upon the doctor with displeasure.

In the area of mental health, there has been considerable harm to so many of us. Hazardous, mind-altering drugs are quickly and frequently prescribed, resulting in either terminal damage or total dependency on those drugs. Qualified psychiatric care is virtually non-existent in many of these institutions.

And, as long as some doctors and hospitals decree that when something goes wrong, it is ‘an act other than their own’ we will continue to suffer. But once faced with a strong malpractice mandate and the right to sue such institutions, clean up at these institutions will surely begin.

There are good and virtuous doctors out there, too. But faced with the pressure of recouping investments at these glitzy institutions and having to process more patients per hour than is reasonable, these medical practitioners lose out in the battle of substance over quota.

Many of you readers may at one time have grinned and painfully bore it, but it is time that those entrusted with health legislation make it a point to minimise the cruel subjugation of improper diagnosis on our community.

In recent years, there have been noticeable attempts by the Saudi Ministry of Health to clamp down on charlatans posing as doctors and nurses through an ample supply of fake or bogus degrees. There has been a strict enforcement of medical accreditation through a selected board of physicians. Health officials have begun making unannounced visits to government-run facilities and services have begun to show signs of improvement.

Is the rest of the Gulf catching up in this matter of health concern?

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah. You can follow him on Twitter at