Upskilling the UAE’s healthcare industry

The CEO of King’s College Hospital London in the UAE explains how a partnership with a leading university aims to take the country’s healthcare industry to new heights



Neil Buckley

Earlier this year, a partnership was agreed to drive forward the evolution of the UAE’s healthcare industry.

In January, the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with King’s College Hospital London in the UAE to promote academic collaboration with student and faculty exchanges and bring specialist conferences and workshops to the UAE.

The initiative aims to boost the quality of medical professionals in the country, as well as enhance local services and options available to UAE patients, helping to ensure fewer people need to travel abroad to seek certain treatments, among other benefits.

A month after the MoU was signed, the partnership held its first event – the International Symposium of Neurology and Neurosurgery, heralding the launch of the initiative’s ambitions to change the face of the UAE’s healthcare industry.

The CEO of King’s College Hospital London in the UAE, Neil Buckley, spoke with Gulf Business about what the partnership hopes to achieve, and why upskilling is so important for the region’s healthcare professionals.

How did the partnership between King’s College Hospital London in the UAE and the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences come into being?

“Since our footprint expansion into the UAE, King’s has been fully committed to helping the UAE achieve a world-class healthcare system. There are many ways that we are contributing to this, including bringing cutting edge medical care and treatment to the UAE, including several firsts. We are also increasing the percentage of accredited health facilities (adding three medical centres, two in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi, in addition to the upcoming Dubai-based hospital) and increasing the number of doctors and nurses per population, as well as upskilling the next generation of UAE doctors.

“The latter has inspired us to find ways to start making a difference, so we looked at a number of institutions we could partner with in Dubai and selected the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) in this particular instance. MBRU aims to become a global hub for innovative healthcare education by developing relationships with regional and international leading medical and educational institutes. And thus, collaboration with them seemed to be a natural step towards a mutual goal.

“In January 2018, we signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with them to solidify a two-year continuing education partnership.

“The partnership’s objective is to promote academic collaborations with student and faculty exchanges, bring specialist symposia, conferences and workshops to the UAE amongst other key benefits to students and the sector. The partnership was inaugurated in February with the International Symposium of Neurology and Neurosurgery.”

How do you hope the partnership will develop over time?

“We are working closely with MBRU to determine the specialities, in which we have world leading expertise, that would add value to their curriculum. We have started with the theoretical study of neurology and neurosurgery for Q1 2018, but the next edition of the International Symposium of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Q2 will focus on practical, hands-on simulation learning workshops for UAE medical students and clinicians to learn the actual procedures in the field.

“Over the course of the next two years, we plan to replicate this model potentially across the following areas of expertise: gastroenterology, oncology and liver transplant medicine.”

Why is upskilling so important to the UAE’s healthcare industry? Is this simply the next step in the country becoming a global industry leader?

“With the UAE’s aspirations to achieve a world-class healthcare system, it is essential the industry focuses on making sure the current needs are met and the future ones planned for.

“The UAE expects a rise in demand for beds by 3 per cent every year, which means that by 2020 the demand will be 13,800 beds, according to Alpen Capital. Similarly, the demand for increased number of doctors and nurses will increase.

“In 2030, the population is projected to reach 10.5 million. With the UAE’s ageing and increasing population, the demand for care of chronic diseases will also naturally increase. In areas such as neurology, where at present in Dubai there are only 280 neurologists, there is a demonstrated need to increase the number of experts in this field.”

What difference will the initiative make to local talent? Why is it so important for the next generation of Emirati doctors to be part of this drive?

“Through the International Symposium of Neurology and Neurosurgery, and other symposiums and workshops alike, we hope to inspire students to pursue their medical careers in areas of expertise that are in demand in the UAE.

“While students certainly have access to excellent local expertise, through these specialist conferences they are able to learn first-hand procedures that are groundbreaking and ensuing straight from the UK’s best research centres. This means they will get the opportunity to learn cutting edge procedures, which are practiced by few experts worldwide, and ultimately in the future be among a few world-class leaders, who will offer them here to UAE patients.

“It is key that the next generation of UAE national and UAE based doctors gets involved, in order to help bring to fruition the UAE’s vision for healthcare.”

When do you expect to see the results of this initiative coming through?

“It is difficult to stipulate or quantify the outcomes of this initiative in the long term. However, we believe that our partnership with the MBRU will contribute to upskilling, enriching, to say the least, the knowledge of a number of UAE medical students and clinicians.

“If five students out of 300 end up pursuing neurosurgery to become world leading experts in it, or in one of the other medical areas wherein we will be providing expertise, this will be a success.

“Looking to the future, we aim to become a leading teaching hospital in the UAE within the next five years. We are developing a postgraduate training system with King’s College London Medical School and the Royal College of Surgeons that will be in place by Q1 2019.”

What will be the key economic benefits of having such speciality treatment in the UAE?

“Some 400 patients saw a neurologist or neurosurgeon overseas out of a total of 2,717 patients in 2014. The total cost of patients treated overseas from Dubai was Dhs439m in 2014.

“We also know that despite the limited availability of recent statistics on neurological disorder prevalence in the UAE, King’s College Hospital in London has seen around 100 cases from the UAE over the last five years, so we know speciality treatment in neurology is a growing area of concern, wherein there is a need to provide enhanced local services and options to patients in the UAE.

“The provision of treatments such as deep brain stimulation – a non-surgical procedure that treats epilepsy; occipital nerve stimulation – a treatment targeted at migraines; or vagal nerve stimulation – a therapy that improves the abnormal function of tissues to help treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, amongst many others, may help reduce the costs of overseas treatment.”

Do you believe academic collaborations are the fastest way to evolve the healthcare industry?

“Academic collaborations are certainly effective ways to spur evolution, most precisely progression, as nurturing expertise is at the root of any sustainable industry. There may be faster ways to have an impact on the industry in a short term. However, the rapidity at which the healthcare industry can evolve is insignificant in the absence of a high level of quality care.

“I believe collaboration is key for sustainable improvements. Working with reputable local academic institutions, such as the MBRU, provides a well-grounded link for students and clinicians based in the UAE who wish to have access to local and international expertise. In addition to upskilling, our collaboration creates an international network, where students are exposed to the most up-to-date technologies and procedures and can benefit from exchanges.

“This model of partnership may appeal and be an option for other leading providers, which is something we welcome for the greater good of the UAE’s healthcare evolution.”