With internationally trained health professionals and world-class medical research, Cyprus can legitimately claim to be a top destination for wellbeing.
The health sector in Cyprus is at an exciting turning point, with final moves to roll out a new national health scheme (NHS) – a process that will see the complete overhaul of the sector through a comprehensive modernisation of care and services. The restructuring, which is set to be fully completed by 2020, will bring with it substantial upgrades and automation. However, outside its borders, Cyprus is perhaps better known for its world-class medical research and top-notch health professionals, which is also paving the way for the island to become a popular destination for medical tourists. Most professionals in Cyprus are educated at reputable universities in the UK, Greece, Western Europe, the US and Russia, an influential factor in the strong development of the country’s private sector. 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 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.
Building an Efficient NHS
Plans to roll out the much-anticipated and needed NHS are in the pipeline, with aims to bring long-overdue improvements to public healthcare services. 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 2017 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 an ambitious programme to computerise medical provision and develop an integrated e-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. In this context, an investment opportunity that could be tapped into is e-Health solutions, which will be the cornerstone for the new NHS.
Growing Medical Tourism
On a global scale, the world medical tourism industry is worth as much as US$40 billion and accounts for approximately 2.5% of international tourism revenue – with positive future growth prospects. Medical tourism is a highly viable sector to develop in Cyprus, as it has excellent medical infrastructure, hospitals, laboratories and other diagnostic centres. Services are relatively affordable and easily accessible. These aspects coupled with its large pool of highly educated healthcare professionals and expert services, are rapidly establishing the island into a centre for medical tourism in the Mediterranean region and beyond. The country’s ideal climatic 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.
Attracting Foreign Talent
The Cyprus government took a decisive step 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 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
Cyprus has a great number of recognised researchers, with tremendous contribution to medical science. More recently, the establishment of medical schools on the island has been a strategic move in the ongoing process of improving the sector, as well as fostering international 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 EU, resulted in data and new knowledge benefitting both the local and 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.
New Opportunity: Medical Cannabis
Another recent interesting initiative, is a plan by the Health Ministry to introduce legislation for the cultivation and trade of medical cannabis. Apart from the benefits it would bring patients – a number- one priority – it would also bring a boost to the economic development of the island, as well as attract significant foreign investment for the entire production chain.
Healthy Vital Signs
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.
Updated: March 2017