DUBAI // A shortage of nurses across the Emirates has led to a plan that will create a unified licensing body. The new Nursing and Midwifery Council said yesterday that low wages, low status and limited career progression are all factors influencing the shortage. The country needs to boost the number of nurses by 25 to 30 per cent. The council believes that creating one body to oversee the licensing and regulation of nursing will alleviate some of the problems that affect the profession. Currently there are three bodies responsible for licensing nurses who work in different emirates. Everything from salaries to codes of conduct and scopes of practice varies across the country. There are approximately 23,000 nurses and midwives working across the seven emirates. An increase of 30 per cent would increase the number to almost 30,000. The council also plans to increase and improve nursing and midwifery education and develop strategies to encourage more nurses to take up specialities such as neonatal and intensive care. There are plans to introduce accredited courses to ensure the uniformity and quality of training. Dr Fatima al Rifai, the director of the federal department of nursing at the Ministry of Health and secretary of the new council, said the shortage of nurses and midwives - which is a global phenomenon - was compounded in the UAE by the perceived low status of the profession. "A lack of unified regulation also affects the identity and image of nurses and midwives," she said. "It is very important that we develop national scopes of practice and we believe we will be able to do this. By 2015 we would like to have a new system where nurses and midwives only need to register with one agency and will all meet the same minimum standard." The council was set up by royal decree last year and Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is the president. Details of its structure and strategy were released yesterday at a ceremony attended by Dr Hanif Hassan Ali, Minister of Health; Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, Minister of Education; and Princess Muna Al-Hussein, president of the Jordanian Nursing Council. There are different licensing rules in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the northern Emirates. Requirements about educational qualifications, experience and primary source verification differ depending on which body - Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, Dubai Health Authority or the Ministry of Health is licensing the nurse or midwife. "We would like to have one criteria related to the competency and education and required experience," Dr Rifai said. "Every patient should be receiving the same level of nursing or midwife care regardless of where they are in the UAE. We will benchmark the requirements against international standards." As well as making it easier for nurses to work in the UAE and develop their careers, a unified registry would also allow hospital and clinic bosses to ensure their employees meet standards. Alison Ramsay said the council's plans would help her recruit up to 500 nurses over the next five years in her role as director of nursing and quality at the German General Hospital in Abu Dhabi. "This means there will be consistency across the country so that we know a nurse working in any part of the UAE has gone through the same licensing requirements," she said. "It means we can have the confidence that the nurses we are employing are of the right level of education that meets international standards." One of the main problems in the nursing sector here is the lack of opportunity to enter specialist roles, Dr Rifai said, adding that improving specialist education and encouraging career progression was key. Wendy Hewitt-Sayer, the director of nursing at Dubai Hospital, said developing this sort of specialist education in the UAE would be an "amazing step forward" and would stop the need for nurses to travel abroad to train. According to the Ministry of Health, only four per cent of nurses are Emiratis. The Council would like to increase the number in line with the population demographics of the country. "The public image of nursing is an issue. We want to make it a more professional role and more desirable," said Lauren Arnold, a health care consultant to the council. "Hopefully more and more Emiratis will choose nursing as a career option." The Council will consist of members from various organisations, including the Ministry of Education, UAE University in Al Ain, Emirates Medical Association, Dubai Healthcare City and the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi.