ABU DHABI // Better health care in the Northern Emirates is on the way, the Minister of Health promised the Federal National Council yesterday.
Members complained that services lagged far behind what was available in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
They said there was a shortage of doctors, services and medication and a need for tighter supervision, and blamed a lack of coordination between the minister and local health authorities.
Dr Abdulrahman Al Owais, who took office on Sunday after serving as acting minister since 2011, agreed with every complaint and said federal and local authorities would work more closely together.
The minister promised greater co-ordination over hiring standards for doctors. "Yes, there is a difference in standards," he said. "Now it is all the same. The Ministry of Health, the Dubai Health Authority and Health Authority Abu Dhabi Dhabi all work with the same company to register the data."
Doctors banned by any authority in the GCC for malpractice will be blacklisted nationwide. "We started cooperation with Europe as well," he said.
FNC members spent five hours asking him in detail about the ministry and how he planned to change the health sector.
They asked how the level of medical errors compared with elsewhere.
The minister said errors were made in less than 1 per cent of cases, but admitted that might be because there is no unified complaints system. He said the higher medical liability board was being streamlined to address that.
"People want to know they are in safe hands," said Sheikha Al Erri (UAQ). "We hope the ministry will increase monitoring, and also look at working hours and the reasons for mistakes and negligence."
She said the current law was not enough.
Dr Al Owais agreed there was a need for greater monitoring of health services.
He said casualty wards across the country were already being evaluated by the ministry, and admitted he himself had waited for four hours to be seen. "Soon there will be a committee to look into casualty wards," he said.
The minister said casualty wards in Abu Dhabi and Dubai hospitals already met a set of international health standards, and the ministry ones soon would too.
"The Ministry of Health is late, but started in 2011," he said. He said it introduced the standards in Ajman's diabetes centre and a blood centre in Kalba. "We hope soon it will be introduced across the country."
Members pointed out that some casualty wards had no specialist doctors. The minister said with the new standards, and a bigger budget, they hoped to hire more doctors.
The ministry employs 1,100 doctors for hospitals with 2,200 beds. Members and Dr Al Owais agreed that was too few staff.
He said the situtation in some hospitals had improved slightly since the FNC health committee drew up its report a year ago. The minister said he would visit the hospitals to ensure they continued to improve.
He said several specialist clinics, including a centre for heart disease and cancer, would open soon in the Northern Emirates.
Dr Al Owais asked the council to support his efforts to increase the ministry budget from last year's Dh2.9 billion.
The council agreed that this was not enough to run the ministry's 15 hospitals and 92 medical centres, and will recommend to the Cabinet that it should be increased.
The complete list of recommendations will be passed by the council at a later date.
Mohamed Al Buti (Abu Dhabi) suggested that expatriates should pay for vaccinations that are currently free for children under 2 and pregnant women, to "lessen the financial burden" on the ministry.
The minister noted, though, that families might not be able to afford to pay, and it should be thought of as a humanitarian service.
"We go back and find the biggest challenges, as the council said, and we stress again our thanks, and we support all the council's recommendations," Dr Al Owais said.
Dr Al Erri said there would be more pressure on the minister to perform now he had just one job. In last week's reshuffle, his other post as Culture, Youth and Social Development Minister was given to Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak.
"The problems are now piled up," Hamad Al Rahoomi (Dubai) said. "Last year, he was an acting minister only, we saw real changes. His words now show truly there is change."
The minister said the most important thing now was "advancement" in health. "I expect the future to be better," he said.