Call for pool of specialists to share expertise with hospitals’ intensive-care units in UAE

Experts say there is a lack of staff trained in care for acute trauma patients, creating a crisis in intensive care units.

ABU DHABI // Health experts have called for a pool of rehabilitation specialists to share their expertise with many hospitals to help ease a crisis in intensive-care units (ICU).

There is a severe shortage of experts in speech therapy, cardiac rehabilitation and neurological care, which are crucial for those suffering from acute trauma, they say.

This means critically ill patients take longer to recover, filling badly needed beds, said Dr Sabahat Wasti.

“We would like to see more expertise sharing in the country,” said Dr Wasti, chief executive and consultant at the Berlin Medical and Neurological Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi.

“I think a good practice would be to allow rotating visiting of ICUs by early rehab teams to cover several hospitals – to see patients, develop their care plan and oversee the implementation of the plans.”

Many of those in an ICU have suffered an acute trauma or require complex care. They need experts in areas including speech, occupational and neurological therapies and cardiac rehabilitation.

There is also a great need for specialists in treating children with complex developmental disorders.

Dr Wasti, 56, said world-class intensive-care hospitals were being built in the UAE, but he warned that not enough local experts were being trained to work in them and patients were still being forced to go abroad for treatment.

Most rehabilitation specialist services are lacking compared with Europe and America, he said.

“Post-critical illness rehabilitation here is not readily available,” Dr Wasti said. “The resource is limited, so you have to widen the scope and share the expertise.

“It would make infinite sense that people could work across facilities, especially in certain areas where the resource is very tight.”

Countries including the United States are focusing heavily on rehabilitation services, he said.

“ICU rehabilitation is a rapidly upcoming field in Europe and America. There is emerging and accumulating evidence that with early rehabilitation you can reduce the length of stay in hospital and you can improve the outcome.”

The Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) published statistics last year showing that severe capacity gaps exist in medical rehabilitation.

A rotating team of specialists would help to meet the demand until more staff were employed, said Dr Wasti.

Insurance companies could help to foot the bill, he said, once they realised it was more economically viable to have visiting experts rather than pay for patients who stayed in hospital for longer.

Dr Wasti said while new rehabilitation centres were cropping up in Abu Dhabi, more needed to be done to tackle the lack of trained specialists.

“A lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon in developing rehabilitation services,” said the British expatriate. “While it is very welcome, it is equally concerning the way these services are being developed either on spec or with imported expertise who do not know the lie of the land.

“We are not homing in to the specialist rehabilitation. We invest too much in the structure and not in the professional development. So we are left with good buildings and good places to work but not a good quality of clinicians to operate in places.”

The lack of rehabilitation services means residents are still travelling oversees for specialised treatment, he said.

“The demand to go overseas is real but we may, in part, at least be able to offset this demand if it was possible to share expertise in-house.”

Dr Wasti will address the Emirates Critical Care Conference in Dubai in April.