x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

I learnt most about hospitals when I needed one

In my work I have had many conversations with people about recent trips they had taken to Europe or the US for what were often very basic procedures.

In August last year, as the senior health reporter for The National, I wrote a series of articles about the country's health system, based on a YouGov survey that had been commissioned by my newspaper.

The survey found widespread distrust of healthcare services in the UAE. Seven out of 10 respondents said that, if they were faced with a serious medical condition, they would prefer to go abroad for treatment.

It wasn't only the expats who felt this way. The survey revealed that many nationals also felt the same way, and I could believe it: in my work I have had many conversations with people about recent trips they had taken to Europe or the US for what were often very basic procedures. My job requires me to remain objective, but I would have been lying if I said I would not have considered doing the same.

Throughout the past two and a half years I have written about virtually every aspect of the country's health system, reporting repeatedly on such issues as the UAE's lack of primary health care and the over-reliance on foreign skills - the overwhelming majority of medical staff here are from other parts of the world and most of the larger hospitals are managed by international firms. These are things that most people view as fundamental problems, but, from a patient's perspective, is this a fair assessment?

It was hard to say; I had had almost no personal experience of the system in action.Then, one evening two weeks ago, I became seriously ill. Even if I had felt up to the prospect of travelling, there was no time to think about booking a flight.

I asked a friend to take me to The City Hospital in Dubai Healthcare City, for no better reason than that it was the only one I knew from a personal rather than a professional perspective. When I moved to the UAE I made a point of registering with a GP, so I had a medical file listing allergies, previous problems and other information about my health, and I formed a trusting relationship with a doctor, who happened to be from England.

Even so, when I arrived at the 24-hour clinic I was a little apprehensive. I tried to take off my professional hat and instead be a regular patient. After a fairly quick consultation, I was told to come back the following day to meet a general surgeon. This was now uncharted territory for me. I have never had general surgery and was certainly not thrilled at the prospect of having it in the UAE. The next day I was admitted to a regular private room; it was nice but I was far more interested in the substance than the style.

During the next two days I met a series of nurses, who were nothing short of fantastic. My night nurse was South African and the nurse on call during the day was Indian. They were both attentive, efficient and, most importantly, incredibly professional. My surgeon, from Germany, was also wonderful. As I lay there being looked after I began to wonder why anyone in the UAE would travel abroad to receive what must be the same level of care that is available here.

Yes, it would be nice to have more Emiratis in the health system, but this is not an issue of quality, it is about perception: the idea that people would feel more comfortable being treated here if they saw members of the local population providing care. The reality is that the UAE is a young country. It has grown tremendously in the past few decades and, as a result, it is obliged to import a lot of talent in health care and other fields.

But I no longer think this is such a bad thing. If they can do the job well, what is the problem? As the saying goes, don't knock it till you've tried it. I tried it, I liked it and, most importantly, I'm healthy again.

munderwood@thenational.ae