Can Brexit Be An Opportunity For Arab-UK Healthcare?
We now know for certain that the UK will leave the European Union on January 31. But “Global Britain”, replacing the UK’s 46-year membership of the regional bloc, is still more of a slogan than a policy. The underlying reality is that the UK is in search of new sources of trade, influence and alliances. The Middle East will be a natural focus for Boris Johnson and his new government. Business will follow too. Healthcare, an area in which the UK is a world leader, will be central to the UK’s commercial focus post-Brexit.
It’s a sign of UK commitment to growing trade with the Middle East after Brexit that, even as Britain leaves and Boris Johnson reshapes his government, ministers will be leading a large trade delegation to the Arab Health forum in Dubai at the end of January. It will be focused on selling British firms’ expertise to meet the growing Middle East demand for quality healthcare.
Ageing populations, rising life expectancy and clinical workforce shortages are problems plaguing healthcare providers around the world. But the Middle East is home to a young, tech-savvy population, which is driving demand for digital healthcare and medical devices to solve these issues. Treatments involving artificial intelligence, digital health and robotics are in high demand to alleviate ailments.
Not only is there increasing demand, but healthcare spend is steadily increasing in the region too. Official Healthcare UK figures show that by 2024 healthcare spend is set to reach $3.3 billion in Bahrain, $4 billion in Oman, $8.5 billion in Kuwait, $11.9 billion in Qatar, $25.7 billion in the UAE and $61.2 billion in Saudi Arabia.
What’s more, the latest figures from UK Government show there were nearly $250 million of UK health exports in 2018—a 40% increase on the year before. Digital Health has comprised a large part of the target achieved and British companies are well-placed to meet demand. Last year, a major contract between UK health startup Babylon and the Saudi Ministry of Health was signed in the UK pavilion at the Arab Health conference in Dubai, and other contract discussions are proceeding. The contract signals the introduction of the large-scale use of AI health services in the Middle East.
UK medical providers such as London’s Harley Street Medical Centre and King’s College Hospital, who already have clinics in the Abu Dhabi and Dubai, will also want to build on the reputation of these as centers of excellence and attract more Middle Eastern patients looking to travel to the UK and benefit from world-class treatment after leaving the EU. The government is keen to support UK healthcare providers to expand their offering in the region. Promoting the UK’s provision of healthcare, medical devices and digital technologies in new and growing global markets is exactly the kind of focus the government wants to support after Brexit.
It’s no secret that Brexit will bring a myriad of opportunities to Middle Eastern countries. The region will become even more of a strategic partner for the UK. This can be a win-win situation, but business and governments on both sides will need to work together to push the boundaries of technology to improve the health and lives of millions of patients. Engagement, from businesses and governments, is crucial to future success—and it should be starting now.