Ayesha Mai was expecting to deliver her baby on January 18 and had already paid Dh1,400 of the bill in advance. But as she had passed the due date by several days without having any contractions, she went to the hospital on Sunday to see her doctor. What she encountered instead was a padlocked door and an official notice of closure.
Ms Mai was not alone. Every patient who went to the Central Private Hospital in Sharjah to see his or her doctor faced the same situation this week. The Ministry of Health had ordered the 60-bed hospital to close temporarily until shortages of staff and medical equipment were addressed, and the facility is expected to reopen in the next few days.
The speedy reopening will certainly be welcome by patients, but there is a larger issue at hand when it comes to health care in the area. Central Private Hospital was certainly not alone in its situation of shortages. In 2010, the Federal National Council's committee on health, labour and social affairs visited government hospitals in Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. Committee members reported poor medical services and a lack of nurses and doctors in many different institutions, which struggle to retain staff.
The problem is two-fold: healthcare facilities in the Northern Emirates have to be held to high standards, but a closure - even a temporary one - obviously leaves patients in the lurch. Advance payments have to be refunded, but even more importantly, patients may need to find alternatives for the care they need, and to receive their medical records. It is to be hoped that the quick reopening will allay most patients' concerns, but for patients in acute situations - like expectant mothers such as Ms Mai - even a temporary closure can be disconcerting.
There are other complications as well. A couple has faced problems registering their newborn, because they didn't have the baby's birth certificate. That situation, surely, will soon be sorted out.
The underlying issue affects many hospitals across the Northern Emirates. Staff retention has been a perennial issue. At public hospitals, there are clear solutions such as long-term contracts with a significant end-of-service payments. Private hospitals will need to be held to account to find that balance between profitability and standards of care.
Quality health care is, after all, a national priority.