If you don't have your health then what do you have? The adage is as true for a country as it is for an individual. That the UAE provides a minimum standard of care for all who live here is a testament to its progress. But as Al Ittihad newspaper reported yesterday, the Ministry of Health now faces substantial budget cuts at a time when the nation's hospitals and medical professionals are struggling to meet a growing demand for their services.
The Ministry of Finance has decided not to fill existing vacancies in the health care system in order to contain spending. While a search for savings is justified, slashing funds to the nation's hospitals and clinics may not be the most prudent way to manage the budget. Staff shortages have been endemic in many parts of the health care system and in the last two years, more than 600 doctors and technicians have left their positions, many for higher salaries in positions elsewhere in the region.
Spending on health care is not the only area of the federal budget that is being reined in. But cuts should be driven by the nation's priorities; the health care system should be among the highest.
There are strategic ways to find savings and provide better care by changing the way the relationship between patients and their doctors is managed. At present, the health system suffers from a lack of general practitioners (GPs), who form the first line of defence against illness and serve as a regular point of contact between a patient and the health care system in many nations.
A GP is not only equipped to forge a personal relationship with a patient but can also manage their relationship with the health care system itself. GPs who are more familiar with a patient's medical history can also advise prevention measures that will help them to lead healthier lives. Annual physicals, standard in many nations, should become more widely conducted.
Preventative measures could create savings in the long term, money that could help increase the pay for GPs and other medical professionals to perform to a higher standard.
Concentrating more on preventative medicine can help to cure much of what ails the country's health care budgets. But it will take a renewed investment in people to make these changes possible.