x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Abu Dhabi health chiefs appeal for more nurses

Increasing the number of nurses is a priority but there has to be an 'attractive working environment' to reduce high turnover of staff.

Abu Dhabi // Recruiting nurses should take precedence over hiring doctors to cope with the emirate's ageing, expanding population, according to a senior health official. Figures released by Heath Authority-Abu Dhabi last week predicted that the number of doctors and nurses would need to double over the next decade.

However, HAAD's head of strategy, Dr Philip Vetter, said boosting the number of nurses was the priority because of the burden of chronic diseases. To do this, hospitals would need to create an "attractive working environment" to reduce the high turnover of staff, which, Dr Vetter said, is "costly and disruptive". "There needs to be a focus on developing a [UAE] national workforce, which are, certainly for nurses, under-represented as a share of the population," he said. There also needed to be initiatives to recruit from abroad, he added.

Pam Cawley, the head of nursing at the Higher Colleges of Technology, said there needed to be a better balance between work and family to attract Emiratis. "An Emirati must be able to combine nursing with a family, this is what will make the job attractive," she said. "There needs to be flexibility." Nurses were also crucial to health promotion and disease prevention, she added, and could be used as a long-term tool to bring down the rates of chronic disease and mortality.

"They do these activities within the community that will hopefully, in the long run, decrease the rates of disease," she said. According to Dr Vetter, the authority is also looking at ways to better utilise data in the same way if collates results from Weqaya, the UAE national screening programme. Expatriates are screened for tuberculosis and other diseases when they apply for a residency visa. This data, however, is not collated by the health authority. Simple tests for diabetes and obesity, for example, are not done. This is under discussion at HAAD.

Dr Vetter said this data was "invaluable" to patients and medical staff for managing chronic conditions such as heart disease, which was responsible for around a quarter of deaths in the emirate last year. The third most common cause of death, after heart disease and cancer, was road accidents. Dr Vetter said this was another key priority. "We need to ensure the logistics are improved," he said. "Injured patients should not die on the their way to a hospital because it is taking too long."

Hospitals also need to be "specialised to deal with road traffic accidents in an optimal way", he said. The annual statistics report also showed a number of gaps in the services available across the emirate. Neonatal care, intensive and critical care, cancer care, general medicine and rheumatology all need more facilities and staff. Some fields suffer from a mismatch of facilities and staff. For example, the emirate has more anaesthesia facilities than it needs, but fewer staff.

Emergency medicine, cardiology, dermatology and radiology also have enough, or too many, facilities but need more specialist doctors. Dr Vetter said the first step to filling these gaps was to be transparent about what the emirate has and what it is lacking. This gives health investors an idea of where to focus, he said. "Secondly, HAAD can influence price levels," he said. "If we want a particular service to be provided, it may get more money.

"For instance, it is desirable that people may be treated at home, if appropriate. HAAD has worked hard to ensure providers can get paid for doing such work." Treating people at home would reduce the burden on bed space and specialist doctors. @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae