The Latvian Cabinet has approved the Healthcare Ministry’s healthcare service export development plan for 2019-2023. It has yet another plan to develop health tourism, but not the money to implement it. The country has so far had little success in attracting international investment into health and medical tourism facilities.
The new healthcare export service coordination council will control the healthcare service export development plan. The main objective of this council will be outlining the list of strategic markets for exports of healthcare services, supervising the plan’s implementation, and notifying the government about any need to update the strategy.
The council will define the target market for health tourism. Most support will be provided to activities associated with strategically important markets.
The Healthcare Ministry says that data is compiled and analysed for healthcare services provided in Latvia to foreign patients. But this is based on international patients, so does not separate specific medical tourists from holiday or business travellers who need treatment for accidents or illness while in Latvia. Efforts may be made in the future to offer separate figures.
The council will also be responsible for ensuring that healthcare, spa and rehab services in Latvia that are used by foreigners are maintained.
While the politicians have approved the plan they have not indicated that they are prepared to spend any money to promote health tourism.
The National Development Plan of Latvia for 2014–2020 includes health tourism and resort development as strategic tourism products. The Health Tourism Strategy for 2012–2020 includes product development, research and joint health tourism marketing activities.
In Europe, Latvia is the country that is most dependent on European Union aid and investment. The country needs international investors to build new private healthcare facilities. Most hospitals are public ones. It has no money to upgrade existing facilities or build new ones.
Despite health tourism being a key element of previous plans, very little has happened, as the country cannot afford major investment. For years the government has pinned hopes on attracting foreign investment to build new and restore existing health and medical tourism facilities, but with little success.
According to a new European Commission report on the Latvian economy, despite EU funding, access to health care in Latvia is limited for a sizeable proportion of the population, with high numbers of people with low income reporting unmet needs for medical care for financial reasons, waiting times or geographic distance to access services. Growth has not been fully inclusive, as inequality has remained high and growth in peripheral regions has lagged behind the Riga region. There is also an increasing shortage of workers.