Members of the Federal National Council called this week for an increase in the federal health care budget, with special emphasis on medical services in the Northern Emirates. The Minister of Health, Dr Abdulrahman Al Owais, promised to work closely with local health authorities to improve the situation.
It is natural for the advisory FNC to take a great interest in medical matters: the public certainly does, and many FNC members focused on health care during their election campaigns.
In considering how to improve services, however, there is a distinction to be made between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, on the one hand, and the Northern Emirates on the other.
The two biggest emirates have health authorities that are well-funded; in many regards care there is a long way ahead of that in other emirates. Attention to efficiency in spending current budgets may be the best way to improve service in the capital and Dubai.
But in the Northern Emirates, life is different. The FNC's health, labour and social affairs committee, on a fact-finding visit there last year, saw some problems first-hand: shortages of facilities, of medical and administrative staff and of hospital equipment.
As Sheikha Eissa Al Ari, an FNC member from Umm Al Qaiwain, told The National about the system in those emirates: "The question should be, 'what problems does the medical sector here not have?'"
In a federal state such as the UAE, there is a natural expectation that essentials such as infrastructure, public utilities, and medical care will over time be moving towards roughly equal levels.
There are real administrative and financial challenges in this. A centralised, countrywide system for monitoring prescriptions, for example, would be welcomed; many doctors and pharmacists have called for such a system, like those in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Already, some of the challenges in the Northern Emirates are being met. The ministry has recently opened new hospitals in Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, Fujairah and Ajman, for example.
But there is more to do. Medical professionals, in particular, should be encouraged to practise in the areas where the need is greatest.