x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

A health-care plan for entire nation

A new federal authority has been scrapped, but the mission for equal services across the country is still vital.

The national health-care strategy is under review. The news reported in The National yesterday, that the Government has decided to scrap a plan for a federal health authority to take over from the Ministry of Health, is a decided step in a different direction.

The federal health budget for this year is Dh3 billion, up from Dh2.3 billion last year. There were some risks inherent in the proposed, now-defunct federal health authority. To start with, the larger budget might have been spent on the transition. Instead, health ministry officials say, funds will now be earmarked for health care services, the training of medical staff and for providing medicine.

The scrapped plan also risked hampering projects that are already underway. A 248-bed Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital should open this year in Ras Al Khaimah, along with new hospitals in Sharjah, Fujairah and Ajman.

But scrapping the plan does not mean scrapping the initial idea behind it. Higher medical standards, the availability of specialist staff in medical facilities, and spending on doctors and nurses rather than on ministry staff are some of the important issues across the country. These issues must now be addressed within the existing structure in an incremental manner.

Health care is a nationwide issue and discrepancies in quality must be addressed. Last month, Abu Dhabi approved six new hospitals that will increase bed capacity by up to a third, along with a medical rehabilitation centre, a dialysis centre, four ambulatory clinics, a special-needs centre and a disease prevention and screening centre. Those resources were made national, rather than limited to a single emirate.

But in contrast, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates suffer from persistent shortages in staff, equipment and medicine. Last year, the ministry showed a commitment to address the disparity in its plan to set up primary health-care units and at-home care teams in a two-year plan for Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. The ministry must build on these projects in other emirates.

There are acknowledged problems in health care nationwide, from bureaucracy to services. The solutions, too, will be nationwide.