With reporting from Elysia Windrum
Almost 38,000 Qatari nationals used the new health insurance plan offered by the government last month – nearly double the number of citizens since the Seha scheme was introduced last July.
Seha, which provides free care for basic health needs at most of the country’s major hospitals and medical clinics, was rolled out to all Qatari nationals at the end of April.
Previously, nationals could only easily access free care at public healthcare centers. Now, as more citizens avail themselves of private services, many popular clinics are facing strain due to patient overload, managers and customers have said.
Dr. Islam Zakaria, manager of Doha Clinic, told Doha News that the hospital has seen a “vast increase” in the number of Qatari patients coming through its doors.
“The new scheme has affected our planning, and we have had to adapt in many ways, by hiring more staff to deal with the increase of patients. Our prices are also being studied and adjusted.
There are positives and negatives to the new scheme, but the staff are trying their best to serve all of the patients efficiently as well as deal with the structural changes.”
The inclusion of all Qataris under the insurance plan represents Phase 2 of Seha. In the first phase, the scheme was restricted to Qatari women aged 12 years old and above, who received free services in gynecology, obstetrics, maternity and other women-related health issues from eight service providers.
Now, some 16 clinics and hospitals are covered, including all state hospitals, as well as private facilities Al Ahli, Al Emadi, and Doha Clinic, and numerous polyclinics.
Seha is expected to be offered to all residents, including expats, by next year. This will mean that everyone in Qatar would be able to choose between public or private healthcare facilities at no additional cost.
Under the new healthcare law passed last year, the government has agreed to pay for the healthcare needs of its citizens, while employers would be required to cover insurance premiums for expats.
Pressure on clinics
Despite the increase in providers from eight to 16 over the past few months, some clinics are apparently struggling to deal with the additional pressure on their services.
On Twitter, some residents are reporting lengthy queues at many private healthcare centers:
@Toryscott @dohanews yes! Future medical is now extremely busy. I pay to avoid queues. Now no point as I have to wait for ages for appt.
@Toryscott @dohanews Yes! It now takes ages at Al Emadi hospital to get a consultation/registration token coz of the queue. — Lubuna (@LubunaKakka) June 15, 2014
This apparent overloading of some clinics and hospitals was acknowledged by Dr. Faleh Mohamed Hussain Ali, acting CEO of Seha, at a press conference in April.
He told Doha News at that time that he felt some providers had simply failed to prepare properly for the change:
“We told them from the beginning that our base of customers is going to be the entire nation. So I think they didn’t actually do their homework properly and they were not ready to actually realize how much pressure is going to be there in the system.”
However, as more Qataris flock to private clinics, there appears to have been a simultaneous reduction in demand at services at some public healthcare facilities.
Hamad Medical Corp. has not yet responded to a request for comment on this issue, but one patient noted today that her local government-run primary care center is now noticeably more quiet:
@BarbarinaV_ @Toryscott @dohanews and I went to my local health center yesterday that doubles as an emergency. It was empty!
— Amina (@AminaAli1) June 15, 2014
What has your experience been like while seeking medical treatment here? Thoughts?
the nation’s public healthcare facilities ain’t that bad… or is it?
Depends what you compare with.
btw – most evidence it is not the facilities that make the difference.
The private clinics being percieved as better were always going to experience an upturn in patient numbers, it seems they did not prepare, however they will prepare now by increasing their charges as they have a government guarentee for Qataris. Great news for them as they can increase their income but this will inevitably lead to squeezing out some expats who can’t afford it and then a knock on effect to the insurance companies who will increase their premiums. Some companies will then look to cut employee costs.
I believe in free health care for all and maybe this will give a boost to the healthcare sector and lead to more facilities being built to serve the population. In the meantime expect to pay more.
It’s never “free” – you always have to pay one way or another..
Agreed but better governments spend money on free healthcare for citizens than weapons, vanity projects or subsidising jobs.
True but healthcare and medical care aren’t quite the same thing. This seems to be more about closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Call to Al Ahli recently for an appointment…..12 attempts later to get through…..”Sorry we are full this month, call the beginning of next month”. ‘But its urgent!……Sorry, call back next month or go to Accident and Emergency. Click. Yes, there is a serious problem. I wish they would spend less on the plush lobbies and fancy pointless cafes in the hospital and more on getting patients in to see doctors, with resources to match. Nurses seem to be performing only menial tasks when they are highly qualified and could be helping out with minor treatments. Never mind the 26 cashier points there to collect your money before you have even discussed the problem….
If they’re the best then I’m worried. Is it just me or is it weird the way everything is printed and stamped a dozen times. Shouldn’t it all be online and only online? What’s with the weird scribbles and mumbles when you get a prescription too? Wouldn’t printing a label help?
Oh yes and a functioning appointment system would be nice too. Is that too much to ask?
Qatar obviously needs to build more hospitals and higher more qualified doctors. Putting the strain on private hospitals wasn’t right.
But no matter how crowded private hospitals get, I will never set foot in Hamad Hospital.
I said this as well, when I came here 4 years ago, and private hospitals were more empty, staff was more friendly and doctors more efficient. Now this having changed, I changed my perception as well and went to one of Hamad’s facilities – and I have to say they are not bad at all. Nurses and doctors do take their time when you are there, everything is clean and for the appointment system – well, it’s the same everywhere now, and you will have to wait minimum 3-4 weeks to see a doctor (unless it is urgent).
I believe people have to change their minds about the public health care system, as it is not as bad as everyone thinks. Of course, this does not go for the emergency, which indeed is crowded most of the times and not pleasant to stay in. But then again, this is where everyone can go and get treatment for free…
The idea that you have to go to now make an appointment at Future Clinic and not call in for one completely baffles me. If I have a sick child, I have to put him in the car, drive to Future clinic, make the appointment for sometime later in the day,drive back home, then drive back again for my appointment just is ridiculous. How hard is it to make the appointment over the phone? There is nothing that the receptionist needs to see. All info can be given over the phone.
appointments, answering emails, answering the ‘work’ phone haven’t taken off yet…its a long way to go yet.
I am Dr.Islam Zakaria
Doha Clinic Hospital Insurance Manager.
Dr.Othman AlSaeed is
Doha Clinic Hospital General Manager.