x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

FNC backs unpaid interns in push for salary

Young doctors at government hospitals in Northern Emirates are unpaid but have been promised 'bonuses', while peers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are on salaries.

Junior doctors and members of the FNC are pushing the Ministry of Health to reverse its decision not to pay medical interns.

Dozens of Emirati interns, who have all done seven years of study and training, work in hospitals and clinics in the Northern Emirates.

The ministry decided to stop paying them as of seven months ago. Now they have appealed directly to the minister, Abdul Rahman Al Owais, for help.

They say the change is unfair as their peers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are paid for similar positions, and add that it will discourage Emiratis from choosing careers in medicine.

Mr Al Owais told them last week there was no hope of them receiving a salary as it had not been budgeted for, but they may receive some financial rewards or "bonuses" by the end of the year.

He said the interns were trainees and so should not be paid.

Al Ittihad newspaper reported in November that the Ministry of Finance had given the Ministry of Health a budget to pay interns.

"We are now more than half-way through our internship year and we have been paid nothing," said Dr Fatima, an intern at a ministry hospital in Ras Al Khaimah.

"We perform the same duties as doctors, we go on rotations to cover different areas, we go to the conferences they require us to go to, we travel to the hospital - all on our expense.

"Being interns does not mean we are trainees. It is a step on the ladder to being a fully experienced doctor with a speciality. We are all graduates. If interns were trainees they wouldn't be paid anywhere, but they are."

Those in the capital are paid about Dh30,000 a month by the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi. The Dubai Health Authority also pays interns.

But hospital and clinics in the Northern Emirates are controlled directly by the Ministry of Health.

FNC members who visited the north last week said most healthcare centres were short of doctors.

"There is a shortage of doctors, so why can the ministry not hire us?" asked Dr Asma, another intern, who commutes for two hours a day to and from Fujairah Hospital.

Dr Hassan said the problem was worse for men with families.

"After I finish my shift at 2.30pm I become a businessman and work until 10pm," he said. "I had to take another job to keep up with expenses. This is the issue: we are men, we want to depend on ourselves."

Dr Asma was not satisfied with the minister's explanations.

"He told us there were many problems in the ministry, and that he is new," she said. "He said he was trying to improve everything but in the process some would have to sacrifice, and in this case it was us.

"But why does it have to be us?

"I told [Mr Al Owais] that he was making Emiratis not want to enter this field, and he said we would get a bonus, not a salary.

"We asked why not a salary and he said he didn't have the budget. But all the papers reported the ministry received a new budget at the end of last year specifically for interns. He could not comment on that."

The minister told them he "could not solve the problem overnight", said Dr Faisal, another intern.

"We are tired of their promises," he said. "Even Sudan gives salaries to medical interns."

The issue has been repeatedly raised by the FNC's health committee with the ministry.

"The minister's argument is that the interns are trainees," said Salim Huweidan, an FNC member from Sharjah. "But this is the first time we've heard this trainee term.

"We are calling on the President and Prime Minister to look into this sector. We know that the President will not forget his children."

Mr Huweidan said the FNC would keep supporting medical interns' push for "rightful salaries".

* All of the interns' names have been changed at their request.

osalem@thenational.ae