ABU DHABI // In crowded waiting rooms, patients jostle for a seat or a standing space as the long wait to see a doctor begins. Behind the reception desk of the paediatric department at the New Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, hospital staff are juggling a constant stream of parents arriving with their sick children to see a doctor, telephone calls and general administration work. The paediatric department is one of the busiest at the hospital, particularly during the peak hours between 5pm and 7pm.
Tarek al Sawaei, a UAE national, 29, arrived with her sick daughter as a walk-in patient. "We have been waiting for an hour and a half. We actually had to leave to do some other chores, and then came back again, because the line was moving so slowly," she said. It is uncertain what the 10-month-old is suffering from. She's been crying a lot, and has cold symptoms. "The doctors here are very good,'' she said. "You need an appointment if you don't want to wait too long. But it is not always an option to make an appointment, because you don't know when your child is going to get sick. With the current situation, you need to make an appointment almost two days in advance if you don't want to stay here for too long, which is not always realistic.
"The situation has gotten worse after they introduced Daman insurance, I think." Another parent waiting is Ellen Fahimno, 42, who has been sitting patiently with her son Jason, age six, for an hour. "I've been coming to this hospital since my son was one year old,'' she said, "and I've never tried another hospital because I trust the doctors here. The only problem is the wait." Boopathy Arumugam, 36, an engineer, walked in for an appointment for his daughter, who is five years old.
"I have been waiting for more than an hour and a half,'' he said. "My daughter has a throat infection. It is very difficult when you're a walk-in patient and when you are with children who need to get treated, it is so difficult to wait this long with them." Nuha Mahmoud is a secretary from Sudan. Her son Waleed is five years old. She said: "I've been waiting with my son for an hour now. Just waiting. My son is suffering from a lung problem and he is also a special-needs child and needs special attention. But we have to wait like everyone else.
"The last time I came because I had a bad cough and needed to get checked up and get medication. I waited for three hours. It was only when I went to complain and made a fuss that they ushered me in to see a doctor and let me cut the line. "In the past, we didn't have to wait this long. When we first came to the country almost 10 years ago, you could see a doctor within 15 minutes. Now, even when you are told there is 'no wait', that still means you have to sit in the waiting area for an hour."
Similar scenes are often found nightly at the hospital's waiting room to see general doctors, with standing room only for patients. The busiest days at the nearby Lifeline Hospital are the weekend, especially Saturday evenings. Almost half of the walk-in patients have to leave and come back another day or seek treatment somewhere else because they cannot be accommodated, given the number of appointments and large number of walk-in patients.
After 8pm, the hospital has a policy of "no walk-in patients". The gynaecology department is one where appointments are needed most. Patients must get an appointment at least two days in advance if they want to avoid waiting for so long. Internal medicine is the second busiest department, followed by orthopaedics. At five months pregnant, Umm Mohammed has been waiting for two hours to see a specialist surgeon. This is her first visit to Lifeline Hospital. She used to use Corniche Hospital, but says the wait over there is even worse than in private hospitals.
"In the Corniche hospital, if you are a walk-in patient, and walk in at 1pm, you would be lucky if you saw a doctor that same day. And even if you do have an appointment at say, 11 in the morning, they make you wait for two hours sometimes." Anne Mooney, from the UK, said she was normally fitted in within two hours of arriving. "Compared to the UK hospitals, this is nothing really. I'd take the wait here over the UK anytime."
For Sheela Nahas, 36, her quest to see a doctor was turning into a four-hour wait. "I called the hospital to ask them if it was OK for me to come in as a walk-in patient and they said it was OK, but until now I am still waiting and I don't know when I will see the doctor. "I think the problem is that I am a walk-in patient, and it is difficult to find a good gynecologist in the country. I live in Musaffah and there is no specialist dealing with female health issues next to where I live. I have to see the doctor today. I am in pain, but I am not going anywhere, even if I am here until 1am. There is no other option."