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Simple steps for federal health care

More emphasis on UAE-wide regulation and coordination in medical matters would be good for the whole country.

Members of the Federal National Council, holding an open meeting in Sharjah on Tuesday, had a busy day. The health-care sector, many members of the public argued, needs a strong federal presence.

Amid the various, but closely related, examples cited, perhaps the most compelling was the one about the licensing of medical professionals. The current licensing system has some built-in redundancy, and could be streamlined if testing, standards and processes could be agreed upon across the country.

Centralisation of this function would also help close holes in the system that, participants on Tuesday suggested, currently permit unlicensed practitioners, even some who have been blacklisted in their home countries, to operate in the UAE.

It is encouraging that Dr Ali Al Ali, the health executive manager at the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi, told the meeting that there is a possibility of validating medical licences for the entire GCC.

As we noted this week in these pages, proposals for GCC political unity demand prudence, because member states have differences as well as similarities. But in some matters, including reciprocal acceptance of medical licences and harmonisation of medical standards, considerable improvements could quite possibly be achieved fairly promptly.

Before that sort of initiative is considered, however, there is much that can be accomplished within the UAE, where the focus should be on assuring equally high standards in medicine across the country.

Licensing of doctors and other professionals is not the only issue. Some work has been done on developing electronic health records, but a UAE-wide approach to this promising but challenging change seems only reasonable. Doctors at Tuesday's meeting spoke of such a system as a tool to control abuses in the dispensing of prescription medications, but there is also an opportunity to improve services for patients when qualified practitioners have access to medical records online.

Certification of specialists by a qualified medical board is another area in which a nationwide approach could lead to improvements.

People depend on their doctors, and a sound medical system in turn depends on thoughtful and well-organised regulation and support. People across the country deserve the same standards.

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