Medical licences to be unified

Medical licensing procedures will be unified by the end of the year, with a national board to be established to review qualifications.

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Medical licences will be unified by the end of the year and a nationwide board established to evaluate and approve training programmes and examinations.

In March, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad) unified their licensing procedures, making it easier for doctors to move between the two emirates. In April, Dubai Healthcare City followed.

But those licensed by the Ministry of Health, which regulates hospitals in the Northern Emirates, were still unable to work for centres belonging to the DHA or Haad unless they applied for licences.

Doctors have welcomed the latest move, saying it would give them more flexibility and play an important role in hospitals retaining healthcare professionals throughout the country.

"When Haad began instituting its own licence, those who were only licensed by the ministry had to move to the Northern Emirates," said Dr Lamya El Barasi, the chief pharmacist at Al Noor Hospital.

"This demotivated many doctors since some of them had to leave their families and lives behind in Abu Dhabi and move to Sharjah or Ajman."

Although unifying the licensing system will make it easier for doctors to practise in different emirates, hospital management should not be concerned that they might lose staff, said Dr Ammar Salti, a consultant anaesthetist and pain management expert at Zayed Military Hospital.

Licences are linked to the centre at which a doctor works, Dr Salti said.

"When a doctor wants to change facilities, he is still required to apply for a change of status," he said. "This requires a background check and security clearance, which takes time. This is a good thing because it secures both the doctor's job and the facility's staff."

A unified medical licensing system could also improve the quality of health care, Dr Salti said.

"For example in Dubai and Abu Dhabi you're required to complete at least 50 hours of continuous medical education every year before your renew your licence," he said.

"Unifying the licences would let people be more confident in the system and let them see that there's no conflict of interest.

"It's a very logical step. After all, it's the same country."

Under the unified licensing system all doctors would be similarly qualified.

The ministry was not available for comment.

A medical board, formally called the Emirates Council for Health Specialties (ECHS), is also in the works. It will be responsible for evaluating and approving medical programmes and examinations.

A blueprint provided by Dr Mohammed Baniyas, chairman of the foundation committee of the ECHS, listed the grounds for establishing the board.

The document states the country lacks a body that accredits clinical specialisation programmes and one that certifies medical specialists. This, it says, "negatively affects national capacity building and the quality of healthcare services".

It states the establishment of the ECHS is essential for "offering and approving internationally recognised, unified and cost-effective postgraduate clinical education and clinical certification inside the country".

The current accrediting and certifying body for residency programmes is the Arab Board, which is not regarded by national health authorities as equal to those on the international level.

The proposal states the board will raise the bar for graduate performance and that current requirements are not adequate.

The DHA and Haad offer post-graduate education programmes for those who want to specialise, but they are not mandatory.

The ministry does not offer a residency programme for Emirati graduates, who are allowed to practise in its hospitals as general practitioners after only one year of internship.