Maternity patients face long delays

Staff are overwhelmed at Abu Dhabi's specialist hospital, staff and patients say, with heavily pregnant women waiting for hours.

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ABU DHABI // Maternity services at the capital's specialist hospital are struggling to cope with demand for antenatal care, staff and patients say, with heavily pregnant women often left waiting for hours to see a doctor. A new complex computer system is leading to congested waiting rooms and frayed tempers at Corniche Hospital, as overworked staff struggle to keep up. In Dubai, meanwhile, hospital authorities admit waiting times for appointments are long and some women from outside the emirate are being turned away.

On some days at the Corniche hospital, there are more than 100 women in the waiting room. As appointment times slip, some are not seen for up to five hours. A new computer booking system installed five months ago was to blame for the delays, said a senior member of the medical staff, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It is incredibly complicated. A new booking takes between 40 and 45 minutes on average to process, and I think I know the system pretty well." The system put additional strain on a hospital already suffering from a lack of doctors, midwives and nurses, she said. Many run their shifts without taking breaks. "We're running on dangerous levels of staff. They are very demoralised and very tired. We are working ourselves into the ground. I have people screaming at me most days."

She said the problems had already caused some to leave their jobs and many of those left were considering following suit. Everybody wants to give birth at the Corniche, she said. "We have a good reputation and the staff is very good. We are the best maternity hospital in Abu Dhabi." However the institution is under strain. "I can't help the system - it's not my fault. The staff take the brunt of it all," she added.

The effect of the long, uncomfortable wait on the pregnant women concerned her. "Women have been fainting. It's not healthy." A spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Health Services company (SEHA), said there were some "transitional issues that are impacting service levels and patient satisfaction".

The hospital was in the middle of a management change, the introduction of a new insurance programme and the installation of a new health information system and centralised patient record system, the spokesman said. "We recognise that service levels are currently unsatisfactory and we are working diligently to improve the situation. We expect significant improvements as these changes are absorbed and staff become familiar with new equipment and procedures. Creating world-class service requires significant change."

Women in the waiting room said the waits were almost unbearable. With more than 100 women crowding in, the hospital also quickly runs out of sundries such as food and drink, they said, adding that the plastic chairs are uncomfortable. After waiting for hours to see their doctor, the women then have to stand for up to an hour and a half to get their insurance paperwork processed. "Hungry, tired, aching, and in discomfort for several hours is something I would equate to third world health care," said the husband of one waiting woman. "For pregnant women in a wealthy country I reckon it's unacceptable.

"My wife showed up at 12.30pm for a 12.50pm appointment and left the hospital after 5.30pm. This is a long time for her and hundreds of other heavily pregnant women to be kept waiting. The women are in varying degrees of discomfort, and some are apparently in pain." Last Thursday patients with 10am appointments were being seen after 2pm. One of the nurses behind the desk told complaining women there was nothing she could do and that "most of the time, nowadays, it's like this".

"If you come at 8am you are fine but if you come at 8.30am then waiting three or four hours is normal," said one expectant mother called Mona, who is expecting her third child. "This should not be. They know how many patients are on the day. If you don't have the time, don't make appointments for all these patients." Many had scheduled appointments around jobs, but the queues meant they were missing work.

Corniche hospital is the only specialised maternity hospital in Abu Dhabi and more than 15,000 babies are born there every year. The long waits are causing many women to seek private antenatal services and only use the Corniche for giving birth. People in Abu Dhabi do have other options. Mafraq hospital, just outside Abu Dhabi, is a public hospital offering obstetric and gynaecological services.

Several private hospitals also cater for pregnant women. However queues also occur at these. A nurse from Al Wasl Hospital, Dubai's only public maternity facility, said it also had problems. "Unless it's an emergency, the wait is two to three hours," said the nurse, who declined to be named. Nada al Qassimi, the spokeswoman for the Dubai Health Authority, said women from the Northern Emirates often sought treatment in Dubai, but Al Wasl Hospital had been forced to turn people away because of the high demand for care.

It could not turn away Dubai residents, however, and many women had to wait instead, Mrs Qassimi said. "We have only one hospital and there are a lot of services that we have to provide so we really have a long queue, but we try to cover it as much as we can."