Shared solutions for health-care staffing

Public hospitals in the Northern Emirates are losing staff, a trend which must be reversed. The solution should involve the carrot, not the stick.

Yesterday The National reported on the state-of-the-art Emergency and Trauma Centre at Rashid Hospital in Dubai, a bustling modern hive of skilled medical manpower.

But the story is unhappily different at many government hospitals in some other emirates, where low pay and other problems have created serious shortages of medical personnel.

In just the last six weeks The National has also reported that the outpatient department at Al Dhaid Hospital in Sharjah reduced operating hours because only one doctor was available after four resigned, and also on the maternity ward at Umm Al Qaiwain Hospital that shut its doors - for the second time this year - because no gynaecologist was available.

Both of those problems were transitory, but they reveal a chronic problem of understaffing in some parts of the country. Analysts say the whole UAE will need many more medical personnel in the coming years, but the problem can be considerably more acute in smaller centres. Nor is lower pay the only problem: medical specialists may prefer the attractions and challenges of a metropolis over life and work in a smaller centre.

Around the world, some countries tackle similar problems by authorising newly graduated doctors to practise only if they agree to begin their careers by working in rural areas or smaller cities for a few years. This approach is controversial and may be counterproductive, however, because a medical degree is the most portable of assets and qualified physicians are welcome almost anywhere.

A more useful approach would be to rotate some staff among institutions, so that any one hospital has a larger pool of physicians, nurses and other professionals to draw upon when temporary manpower shortages loom. This would involve more travel, and details would have to be worked out, but the concept deserves to be explored.

In the longer term, we believe the carrot works better than the stick, as usual with professionals and skilled workers. In other words, higher pay for medical staff in smaller centres would improve the situation.

A Federal National Council committee toured Northern Emirates hospitals last year and blamed low pay in government hospitals for an exodus of medical staff to private hospitals and the big cities. The diagnosis is clear and the remedy has been identified. It needs only to be applied.

Published: August 29, 2011 04:00 AM