SHARJAH // The outpatient department at Al Dhaid Hospital closed its doors to patients on Sunday because it lacked the doctors to keep operating.
The department had only one physician, as four others resigned earlier this year. Hospital administrators decided it was not possible to keep up with the patient load, said Dr Salama Saeed, the hospital's administrative director.
"The outpatient department was working only the morning shift, and we had communicated to authorities the necessity of expanding working hours to evening or a full day," she said. "They have been promising us since August 2008 that they would be expanding it to full time, but nothing has happened so far.
"Now, with four doctors resigning, even the morning shift was unsustainable."
Hospital officials declined to discuss why doctors were leaving.
But a Federal National Council medical committee, headed by Sultan Al Muezzin, made visits to all government hospitals in the Northern Emirates last year and found that chronic staff shortages brought on by low pay had led to substandard treatment.
Doctors, nurses, technicians and administrative staff had left government health facilities in droves to join private hospitals, which offered more attractive salary packages, the committee's report said. The report also found shortages of medical equipment.
Dr Saeed said the hospital informed the Ministry of Health that it planned to close the outpatient section. The ministry promised to have a meeting with the Sharjah Medical Zone to tackle the staff shortage problem, she said.
Neither the Ministry of Health nor the Sharjah Medical Zone was immediately available for comment.
The hospital has faced other resource issues: its CT-scan machine stopped working about two months ago. No repairs had been made and no replacement provided, she said.
She added that other equipment, such as ultrasound machines, were also not working. Most of them were provided when the hospital opened in 2000 and have never been replaced.
All cases that required CT scans have been taken by ambulance to other facilities, such as Kalba Hospital and Kuwait Hospital in Sharjah. Those facilities are more than 60 kilometres away; Al Dhaid is the only hospital in the area.
"This hospital is between several major roads going to Al Ain, Hatta, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah," she said. "There are also many accidents on the road ... that require having the CT scan working and enough doctors in the emergency section."
On Wednesday, 13 people were injured in Al Dhaid town after an accident involving two cars. Six among the injured needed CT scans; three were transferred to Kalba Hospital and the other three to Kuwait Hospital.
"It's bizarre for someone with injuries in the head to reach the hospital and be told to return to the ambulance for a transfer to another hospital," Dr Saeed said.
The Ministry of Health should take immediate steps to help the hospital, said Mohammed Ali, a resident of Al Dhaid and a former patient.
"We have just one hospital in the whole of this area, and we cannot drive for every ailment to other areas for treatment," he said. "The ministry can recruit more doctors and nurses among the many looking for jobs."
Another former patient, Alaa Burhan, agreed that closing was problematic.
"Most of the hospital patients are outpatients. I have never heard of such an important department being closed in any other hospital except Al Dhaid," he said.
Last month, the maternity ward at UAQ Hospital closed its doors to expecting mothers for a week - the second time it had done so in less than a year.
The only two gynaecologist on staff were away: one on annual leave and the other on emergency leave for the death of a relative, according to Juma Obaid Al Aass, the deputy director of the UAQ Administration Department.