After repeated delays, it’s possible that Qatar’s highly anticipated Sidra Medical and Research Center won’t begin conducting inpatient procedures for another three years, a senior board member has said.
Speaking at a staff town hall meeting earlier this month, Lord Darzi – who is also a board member at Qatar’s Supreme Council for Health – speculated that construction of the hospital would take another two years, two people who attended the meeting said.
Commissioning of the building – billed as “an ultramodern academic medical center” dedicated to the care of women and children – could take another year, he added.
The schedule was not a concrete timeline, the attendees told Doha News, but rather an estimate.
Nevertheless, the revised expectations come as a disappointment to many, as the hospital has suffered from repeated delays and is already four years behind schedule.
In a sign of progress, however, Darzi apparently said he hoped construction on Sidra’s outpatient clinic would be completed this year and open sometime next year.
Both Sidra and Qatar Foundation (QF) – which is funding Sidra with an endowment of $7.9 billion – refused to discuss Darzi’s comments with Doha News or speculate when the hospital might open.
“We are evaluating a range of options to ensure the successful delivery of the hospital as soon as clinically feasible and safe to do so,” the organizations told Doha News in identical statements.
Located near Education City, next to the Qatar National Convention Center, Sidra is expected to handle the delivery of 10,000 babies annually, offer specialized pediatrics, obstetrics and reproductive medicine services and contain nearly 400 patient beds.
Its opening is hoped to relieve some of the pressure at other hospitals, many of which are undergoing or scheduled for an expansion as Qatar’s lead health care provider, Hamad Medical Corp., races to keep up with the country’s rapidly growing population.
After missing scheduled completion dates in 2011 and 2012, Sidra officials said they wanted the hospital fully operational by 2015.
Apart from a 2013 fire in the underground car park, the reasons for the ongoing delays are not clear.
Last year, QF suddenly sacked Sidra’s lead construction contractors, OHL International and Contrack International, which had been working on the project since 2008. They were replaced by two new contractors, Midmac and Consolidated Contractors Group.
While neither Sidra or QF publicly explained why the firms had been terminated, a notification of a lawsuit filed by OHL said QF is claiming the project was late and the contractors missed deadlines.
OHL countered it the project was 95 percent when its contract was terminated and that it was scheduled to turn the site over to QF by March 2015.
Hundreds of people have already been hired to work at Sidra, which appears to still be actively searching for staff, with dozens of open positions for researchers, physicians and other professionals advertised on its careers page.
In its statement to Doha News, Sidra addressed the issue of medical staff and researchers who have already been brought to Qatar:
“Sidra’s priority is to use the talent and skills of its staff to deliver world class healthcare to the people of Qatar. That is why more than 100 clinical staff are already working with our partners, including Hamad Medical Corporation … Sidra researchers are also actively involved in groundbreaking research related to breast cancer immunotherapy and genomic sequencing.”
However, some Sidra employees have told Doha News that their contracts are not being renewed and that they’re being forced to look for work elsewhere.
Meanwhile, others who have yet to move to Qatar have complained of their jobs being put “on hold” after being offered positions and submitting licensing information and other paperwork.
“It is very frustrating for all of us who have been waiting,” one person posted on one of several threads about Sidra in an online expat forum.
Another said that accepting a position with Sidra involves “putting your life on hold (for) a bit” as without a firm start date, would-be Sidra staff are unsure if they should enroll in professional courses, renew leases on their flat in their home country or pursue other career opportunities lest they be suddenly told to move to Qatar.
While several people report being told by recruiters that Sidra was gearing up for a 2016 opening, others noted that this was just a guess and that recruiters refused to rule out that it could be several more years before the hospital accepts its first patient.