Relief for residents in the Northern Emirates with new hospitals set to open and medical centres under construction.
Health services improve with new hospitals set to open
For years, people who live in the Northern Emirates have travelled great distances from their homes to get medical services, from heart check-ups to giving birth.
The FNC last year criticised the Ministry of Health for a shortage of medical services and inadequate health facilities in the area.
To the residents' delight, the ministry has announced that several new hospitals and healthcare centres will open soon in the Northern Emirates and provide much quicker access to doctors, nurses and technicians.
The ministry revealed this month that three completed hospital facilities were expected to open this year in Fujairah, Sharjah and Ajman, though the exact dates have not yet been disclosed.
In Sharjah on Wednesday, the opening of the Al Qarain Healthcare Centre, including two dental clinics, a radiology and laboratory department and a pharmacy, was announced.
Five medical facilities are currently under construction in Sharjah, Ajman and Ras al Khaimah and are expected to cost a combined total of Dh1.25 billion.
"This is good news for all the locals and expatriates staying in UAQ," said Khadija Ghulam, who works in the neonatal intensive care unit at Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah, where a new cardiology surgery building is scheduled to open this year. She said more hospitals would give patients better choices.
Mohammed Ali, a doctor at Ajman's Sheikh Khalifa Hospital, welcomed the news and pointed out that there was a need for more specialist healthcare facilities.
"There should be units dedicated to children and units dedicated to women," he said.
Majid Sultan, 40, a resident of Umm al Qaiwain, said that he wanted to see the old UAQ hospital upgraded to match modern-day standards.
"There have been times when part of the hospital is closed because it is leaking during the rainy season," he said. "If new hospitals could be built and old ones upgraded, there would be no health service shortages."
Some families in Sharjah said they have had to drive more than an hour to receive health care, and they were relieved to know that health centres would soon open in or near their neighbourhoods.
"It is great to have a new healthcare centre here, since we used to travel about half an hour just to visit a clinic," said Jamila Hamadi, a UAE national, who had brought her 13-year-old son recently for a check-up at Al Qarain Healthcare Centre. "We can be here in a few minutes now. They have all kinds of facilities that are useful to residents."
The emirate of Umm al Qaiwain in particular has experienced an acute shortage of medical services. Until last month, expectant mothers were being transferred to hospitals in other neighbouring emirates for deliveries. The only available hospital had no working gynaecologist for several weeks. Hospital officials said they had increased the number of gynaecologists on staff to nine.
However, as the Ministry of Health makes concerted efforts to boost the number of healthcare facilities in the Northern Emirates, some healthcare professionals are questioning how the ministry intends to employ the workforce needed to staff those facilities.
"Masafi Hospital has been ready for quite some time now, but it has still not opened. The biggest problem is the medical workforce that needs to be hired and the question is, can the Ministry of Health hire the staff required to open all those hospitals?" asked Dr Sultan al Muezzin, the head of the FNC's committee on health, labour and social affairs.
Dr al Muezzin said high turnover was an issue, as medical practitioners resign from jobs at the ministry to make more money elsewhere.
"In Umm al Qaiwain, there is a staff shortage and that needs to be addressed. In other areas, hospitals are being built, but if they open them at half the capacity, then they would not be able to handle the work," he said. "What is required is the operational strength, because the hospital buildings are now available, but doctors still prefer to work in private hospitals and clinics due to the benefits presented to them."
Possible solutions include training programmes and incentives to retain staff, while attracting new hires.
"Medical staff have to be encouraged through a system that includes training, benefits and improved pay. This is especially important with the talented ones so the Ministry of Health can retain them, because the number of resignations has been particularly high," Dr al Muezzin said.
At the opening of Al Qarain Healthcare Centre in Sharjah last week, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Saqr Al Qassimi, assistant undersecretary of the Ministry of Health and director of the Sharjah Medical District, acknowledged the need for more medical staff in the Northern Emirates.
"We do need more staff, since the number of residents is high compared to the services offered ... We also need a trauma centre in the Northern Emirates and a rehabilitation centre."