ABU DHABI // A bogus doctor jailed for a year yesterday for delivering a baby who was left severely disabled had already been caught practising without a licence but was allowed by a private hospital to continue working.
The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) has increased efforts to identify such unlicensed medical professionals in recent years, and said yesterday that the number had "dramatically dropped". The authority had previously sanctioned the hospital for employing the woman, but she was kept on. Continuing to pose as a licensed doctor, in January 2008 she delivered a baby who was left with irreparable damage because of inadequate care.
Zaid al Siksek, the chief executive of HAAD, estimated that the percentage of people practising medicine without a licence in the emirate was less than one per cent since the authority stepped up its inspections of hospitals and clinics in recent years. "We have trebled the number of inspections our teams carry out over the last few years to stop anybody working in the health profession without the relevant licence, including doctors," he said.
Mr al Siksek said HAAD's inspections, which take place at all hours of the day and are often unannounced, were reaping results. Last week the authority announced that it had permanently revoked the licence of a doctor in Abu Dhabi for issuing more than 480 sick notes in just three months. He had previously been suspended for two months for the same offence. It also found a receptionist working as a dentist in a health centre. The receptionist has been referred to the public prosecutor for further investigation.
In the case of the woman sentenced yesterday, HAAD said she should have been fired by the hospital after the authority first issued sanctions. When the authority discovered the woman was still working, the baby had already been delivered. "We found that this physician was unlicensed and started to take our legislative action against the facility for employing this lady [the first time]," Mr al Siksek said.
"She was obviously not licensed with the health authority and therefore should not have been working there at all. "Then we found out she had been working there a second time. But she had already done the delivery. "She was not licensed in the first place. It is illegal and unethical to employ someone who is not licensed to work as a doctor. "We collected all of the files and information and spoke to the relevant people before preparing the report with our findings."
The woman, a Ukrainian, was sentenced to jail for one year and fined Dh10,000 (US$2,723) by the Abu Dhabi Court of Misdemeanours. The hospital was fined Dh100,000 for employing her without a licence and failing to supply proper equipment such as an incubator. Other authorities across the UAE have also tried in recent years to boost the quality of care by filtering out low standards and unqualified medical professionals.
In Dubai, for example, every doctor was required this year to register for new licences with the Dubai Health Authority. Their education and previous work experience would be marked against new standards. Daman, the national health insurance company, recently introduced an electronic claim system in Abu Dhabi which further added to the checks placed on doctors. When a claim from a hospital or clinic is filed, the licence number of the doctor is cross-referenced with HAAD records to see if the doctor is legally allowed to practise.
If no match is found, Daman will first contact the hospital to see if the details were entered correctly. If there is no explanation, the case may be passed to HAAD for further investigation. Dr Jad Aoun, the company's chief medical officer, said the system was part of a wider plan to boost the quality of care that was offered. "Everyone is working together to make sure unlicensed people do not practice in Abu Dhabi," he said.