Trainee doctors left high and dry

Hundreds of young Emirati doctors due to begin residencies in hospitals last month have been left without pay or contracts, amid a dispute between Seha and the Abu Dhabi Education Council.

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ABU DHABI // Hundreds of young Emirati doctors due to begin residencies in hospitals last month have been left without pay or contracts, amid a dispute between Seha and the Abu Dhabi Education Council.

After completing their internships at hospitals run by Seha, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, and being accepted by them for residency, the doctors say they have not received salaries for last month.

It is understood that tightening government belts means Seha, which used to pay trainee doctors’ salaries without an allocated budget, now wants Adec to contribute. But talks between the two have stalled.

“We had no warning. Our salaries just stopped,” said M R, 25, who was to start a four-year residency at Sheikh Khalifa Medical Clinic. She had finished her internship there and received approval from SKMC’s head of paediatrics.

After an orientation course, M R was sure she would receive a contract from Seha. But it did not come.

Instead, she said she received a message from the hospital telling her that her salary was suspended until further notice.

“I feel lost and stuck, and have had to rely on the help of my family,” said the Emirati mother who was forced to take her son, 3, out of nursery.

“When I stop practising medicine, even after a two-week leave, it is like starting again.

“Now we have been without work for over six weeks. It would have been better to start directly after our internships.”

The Fujairah native and UAE University graduate said the suspension of salaries had affected nearly 200 Emirati doctors on internships at Seha hospitals, with most of them from the Northern Emirates. They did not know the reason for the delay.

But a senior doctor said the problem was due to Seha looking to cut costs amid financial concerns and ongoing discussions with Adec about who would cover the cost of training doctors during residencies.

“Because of the cash situation, Seha is trying to get Adec to fund the whole training programme,” the doctor said.

“All these young doctors have been interviewed and selected for the training programme, and they should have started pretty much the same as the school year in September. As far as I am aware they are all sitting at home.

“The hospitals can’t start them because we don’t have the funding, because of the ongoing negotiations between Seha and Adec. It is a very serious problem and the background for all of this is the financial pressures that government departments are under.

“Seha has been doing it for years without really ever having an allocated budget for it. It has never been a problem before because there has always been plenty of money for it. But because of the financial situation, Seha is obviously looking to where it can make savings.”

The doctor said that negotiations between the two agencies had been going on for a year without a resolution.

“There must be hundreds of doctors in the system waiting to start the job,” he said, adding that the situation had left Seha hospitals understaffed.

Another junior doctor who completed her internship with SKMC said the lack of a contract had forced her to move back to Ras Al Khaimah.

A N, 24, said she went for an internship with Seha because of the quality of care at SKMC, where she also hoped to specialise in paediatrics.

“With this delay no one will expect me as I have missed all the deadlines to join other residencies,” she said.

She said her time away from practising medicine was compromising her skills. “I try to read but it is not enough.”

Yet another doctor said she was looking at leaving the country. N H, 25, said she preferred to work in the UAE but might go back to Ireland, where she attended medical school.

“If there are no other options here I will go where I can work,” she said.

Neither Seha nor the SKMC would comment.