ABU DHABI // More than 55,000 requests for sick notes were made last year, says the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad).
This is the first time the total figure, which includes short and long-term sick-note requests, has been made available.
Until last year, only the number of long-term sick notes - a certificate for a period of illness of more than seven days - was accounted for, said Mouza Al Mansouri, the section head of Haad's medical committee.
The number of long-term notes requested last year was 2,509, down slightly more than 1,000 from the year before.
The figures will become more transparent as time goes on, allowing the authority to pin down healthcare professionals and members of the public who try to abuse the system, Ms Al Mansouri said.
And as part of the system upgrade, all Haad-certified hospitals will have to adopt an electronic sick-leave attestation system from the start of next month.
"We can monitor sick leave, which has a great impact on Abu Dhabi and the country," said Dr Jamal Al Mutawa, the manager of the external services department. "Those who are manipulating the system need to be monitored … but it is difficult to catch them."
The number of fraudulent notes is not available, but it is an obvious problem, said Dr Al Mutawa, who told of one doctor found to be issuing almost four times the average amount of sick notes every month.
In Dubai in 2008, almost 1,000 fake sick notes were discovered from various health professionals.
This week in Abu Dhabi, a doctor at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) was jailed for a year and fined Dh50,000 after being convicted of issuing fake sick notes and charging Dh500 each for them.
Certificates for short and long-term medical leave are now free of charge in the capital.
The new system will be welcomed by healthcare professionals, said Dr Qazi Ahmed, a family physician at SKMC who has to process requests manually.
"First of all, because we are working with other documentation, sometimes we will write a note down in one folder but not the other," said the doctor, who issues an average of seven sick notes a day. "An electronic system will be better for our record and the patient's record because it's the same system."
Switching to the new system will involve some training but it should be easy to adapt to, said Ms Al Mansouri.
"The process of issuing sick-leave certificates online is not different from the manual process," she said. The rules and regulations are the same."
Hospitals that do not comply will be visited by the health complaints department, Ms Al Mansouri added.