Internationally trained health professionals and rigorous adherence to high standards ensure the quality of private healthcare in Cyprus is second to none. Thanks to advances in medical research, Cyprus can legitimately claim to be a world leader in certain fields of medical innovation.
The Cyprus healthcare sector is going through exciting times, with final moves to roll out a new national health scheme and upgrade and automate facilities to offer better care and service. Cyprus is also renowned for its world-class medical research and is becoming a popular destination for medical tourists thanks to its top quality medical professionals, most of whom are educated at reputable universities in the UK, Greece, Western Europe, Russia and the US. In Cyprus, healthcare is provided by both the state and the private sector, with an impressive 74 private hospitals and clinics. The presence of numerous prestigious private healthcare facilities significantly enhances the island’s reputation as a centre for medical excellence and highlights the opportunities available to foreign investors. The island has also opened more opportunities for foreign doctors to carry out procedures in the country, a move that is fostering more cooperation in the international medical field. The American Medical Centre, which started life as a specialist cardiovascular institute, is one such state-of-the-art facility and now offers a wide range of medical services.
Public and Private Excellence
The public sector is highly centralised and most planning, organisation, administration and regulation is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. It is exclusively financed by the state budget, with services provided through a network of hospitals and health centres directly controlled by the Ministry. Substantial investment in the state sector has meant that procedures such as kidney transplants and open heart surgery, which once necessitated a journey overseas, are now routinely carried out within Cyprus. The private system is financed mostly by out-of-pocket payments and to some degree by voluntary health insurance (VHI). It largely consists of independent providers, and facilities are often physician-owned or private companies in which doctors are usually shareholders. Although the total expenditure on health in Cyprus as a percentage of the GDP (6.7%) in 2013 was lower than the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) average, which was 8.9% in 2013, the healthcare statistics are in fact performing better than the EU average and can be easily compared with the large and developed EU member states. This can attributed to the Cypriot physicians’ qualifications and the combined efforts of the Ministry of Health, Cyprus Medical Association and Cyprus Medical Council to keep the bar high in Cyprus.
Creating an Efficient NHS
Plans to roll out the much-anticipated and needed National Healthcare Scheme (NHS) are in the pipeline with the goal to have it up and running by 2019. The key objective is to upgrade public healthcare services and restructure health centres to make them autonomous. Cyprus has been working overtime in a bid to reform the sector and create a system that provides affordable care by reducing the cost of quality healthcare to all. A top priority for the government and the Ministry of Health in 2016 is to make healthcare more patient-oriented, reliable and accessible. In the short term, steps have been taken to reduce patient waiting time through the introduction of minor injuries units and an automated bed availability system, and, in a separate development, the Ministry of Health has embarked on a seven-year programme to computerise medical provision and develop an integrated health monitoring system. This will involve the introduction of digitised health records, the expansion of medical services to remote areas via telemedicine and robotics, and access to international medical data banks.
Investing in Medical Tourism and e-Health
On a global scale, the world medical tourism industry is worth as much as $40 billion and accounts for approximately 2.5% of international tourism revenue with very positive growth prospects. Cyprus’ excellent and sophisticated medical infrastructure of medical facilities, hospitals, laboratories and other diagnostic centres, as well as the highly educated healthcare professionals and top-class health services, are rapidly establishing the island into a centre for health tourism in the Mediterranean region. This coupled with the country’s the ideal climate conditions throughout the year make it an attractive destination where patients can combine treatment with a holiday and recovery with relaxation. The majority of medical tourists come from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and the Middle East and most seek either dental or cosmetic procedures. However, increasing numbers now visit Cyprus for fertility treatment, while the island is gaining a reputation for other specialist procedures such as cancer surgery, minimally invasive spinal surgery and facial reconstruction. Another investment opportunity is e-Health solutions. A cornerstone for the new NHS, health information systems and specialist ICT solutions will be in high demand in the next few years as Cyprus builds up its unified national health system.
Doctors without Borders
The Cyprus government took concrete measures to promote medical tourism as well as cross-border medical cooperation in 2013 by welcoming doctors worldwide to also conduct procedures in Cyprus. Doctors from Israel, the United States and other third countries (non-EU member states) are now allowed to provide services in Cyprus, under certain conditions, with procedures overcoming bureaucracy and delays. This decision not only promotes medical tourism and generates income mainly for private hospitals, but also promotes further training and knowledge exchange for Cypriot doctors, with a number of hospitals becoming Centres of Excellence for the Eastern Mediterranean region, the Middle East and Europe. Cyprus is also gaining a reputation for other specialist procedures. A vast array of quality medical treatments for patients from all over the world are offered in Cyprus, from basic check-ups and diagnostic tests to major surgery, such as kidney haemodialysis, transplants and cardiothoracic surgery procedures, orthopaedic, musculoskeletal surgery and many more.
Innovative Education and Research
The establishment of medical schools in Cyprus was a decisive step in the ongoing process of improving the health sector as well as fostering world-class research and innovation. Over the last five years, three medical schools, one public and two private, have been established in Cyprus – all affiliated with hospitals throughout Cyprus. The sector’s development as a centre for medical excellence received a significant boost with the launch of a four-year postgraduate Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) course at the University of Nicosia (launched autumn 2011). The qualification combines the convenience of training within Cyprus, with all the benefits involved in accessing international expertise. It arose from a unique collaboration between the University of Nicosia and St George’s Hospital (University of London) and it is expected that in time its graduates will make a significant contribution to medical research on the island.
Over the past 25 years Cyprus has made highly commendable achievements in the fields of medical research and innovation. Pioneering research work has been undertaken at the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics, which has developed a ground-breaking, non-invasive prenatal test for Down Syndrome. Research in the biomedical field has had a tremendous increase, especially in the field of genetic diseases, hereditary cancer and biotechnology. These ambitious research projects, funded by both local and foreign sources, mostly through the European Union, resulted in data and new knowledge benefitting the local population and the international community. The top-quality academic work in Cyprus is evidenced by important European funding, including 10 European Research Council (ERC) grants, hundreds of high-impact publications in international peer-reviewed journals and invitations to present their work at major medical conferences around the world.
The calibre of healthcare in Cyprus is truly remarkable. The combination of internationally experienced personnel, advanced technological capabilities, and cost-effective, world class medical services mean that this sector will continue to flourish and expand. The worldwide health workforce shortage challenge may emerge as an opportunity for this growing educational industry in Cyprus. The country’s geographic position and EU membership provide opportunities for well-trained students, originating from third countries, to acquire qualifications recognised by the EU. Cyprus has the potential of developing the sector even further and establishing itself as a strong player in the health and medical field in the wider region.