x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Abu Dhabi in need of intensive-care doctors

While the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi has made significant strides in addressing healthcare shortfalls, there is still a drastic need for emergency care.

ABU DHABI // The emirate desperately needs more intensive and critical-care doctors, and more emergency-care beds.

The shortages remain despite a 17 per cent overall growth in doctors hired and significant strides to plug gaps identified in 2009 in almost every medical speciality, a new report says.

More emergency-care doctors, cardiologists, psychiatrists and neonatal intensive care specialists are also needed, and "a reduction in the number of clinicians licensed" in those four specific fields is the reason for the gap, according to the Health Statistics 2010 report released yesterday by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi.

This year's report provided a "clearer, more detailed, more transparent and more accurate picture of what is going on right now in the emirate," said Dr Philipp Vetter, the authority's head of strategy. It revealed that there are 139 dermatologists, 124 opthalmologists and 805 dentists in the emirate, but only 90 emergency medicine specialists and 71 cardiologists.Emergency room doctors reported the biggest loss, from 117 in 2009 to 90 in 2010. The number of ER doctors must at least double in the next 10 years, the report says.

It remains unclear whether the decline is due to a decrease in the number of doctors applying for positions or being recruited, a decrease in the number of those meeting the licensing requirements or a need for Haad to re-address those stringent requirements.

Last year there were gaps in almost every speciality, including paediatrics, gynaecology, orthopaedics and family medicine.

Private hospitals and clinics were primarily responsible for closing the gaps, with a 75 per cent growth in healthcare services and bed capacity. Private hospitals gained 4 per cent of the outpatient market in 2010.

About 875 doctors - a 17 per cent increase - were recruited and licensed in 2010, which resulted in significant growths of physicians practising general medicine, dentistry, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, general surgery, pathology, dermatology, orthopaedics and family medicine. The result was a reduction in waiting time in all specialities.

Paul Hetherington, the head of planning at Haad, said that this was a result of encouraging investment in health care, in both sectors, and especially in the areas where a shortfall was apparent.

"Through discussions that arose from the data we have been gathering in 2009 and 2010, what we have seen is more services in things like general medicine, ENT [ear nose and throat], internal medicine and endocrinology, which all showed a big increase in the amount of recruitment. However, we have also found that there are still gaps in other areas, which is why we are encouraging hiring."

The report says: "Based on positive experiences in the region and here, we want private operators to provide most health care and add any required new capacity. Private facilities generally build and operate more efficiently than Seha, and are also generally more responsive to Haad quality audits."

Haad will be setting up task forces to address the major needs in health care revealed by the report, such as nursing, neonatal and intensive care, and emergency medicine.

Mr Hetherington said Haad would look at licensing issues in hopes of a more streamlined process.

Based on projected population growth, at least 3,100 more doctors and 5,800 more nurses will be needed by 2020 to meet demand in Abu Dhabi emirate. The transience of the expatriate population means that 15 per cent of doctors and 13 per cent of nurses leave each year, requiring at least 1,400 doctors and 1,600 nurses be recruited each year, according to the report.

To address these needs, the 2010 report included a new dimension: a healthcare masterplan that should give Haad a better indication of what "services should look like in the future", said Dr Vetter.

There are 4,757 doctors and 8,221 nurses in Abu Dhabi, working in 1,211 licensed healthcare facilities. These include 33 hospitals with a capacity of 3,579 beds, 674 centres and clinics and 468 pharmacies.

The number of facilities offering health care has grown by 14 per cent in 2010, with 174 additions in clinics, centres and pharmacies. However, at least 2,600 hospitals must be added by 2020 to meet demand.

And while optimal occupancy levels for beds in critical care wards are 75 per cent, Seha-operated facilities reported nearly 100 per cent occupancy in all intensive care, critical care and neonatal intensive care units. The number of emergency and critical care patients increased in 2010, but the number of doctors to look after them decreased significantly.

hkhalaf@thenational.ae