Shortage of nurses hits health sector

DUBAI — Shortage of nurses is beginning to tell on the UAE health sector and government hospitals are pushing for more benefits and for the upgrading of the recruitment system to retain the experienced nursing workforce currently available.

By Asma Ali Zain And Lily B. Libo-on (Our staff reporters)

Published: Mon 9 Jun 2008, 1:44 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 6:25 PM

The seriousness of the issue can be gauged from hospital statistics. Internationally, the ratio of nurses to patients is set at 1:5, in general, and one nurse to one or two patients at the most for the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of each hospital.

But, this is not the case in the UAE. One hospital in the Al Baraha area of Dubai has a ratio of one nurse to 10 patients, and in the ICU, one nurse to four patients.

The situation has been so for the past few years as more nurses in this region are tempted to proceed to the United States and the European countries reportedly offering family and immigrant visas in lieu of the usual work visas to experienced nurses and their families.

The UAE has been home to nurses from several countries with 40 per cent of them coming from India, followed by Filipinos 30 per cent and the remaining 30 per cent is shared by local nurses and those coming from other Arab countries. Of the 30 per cent, the local nurses comprise mere 4-7 per cent.

Most of them have spent more than three years in the UAE. But, with the current skyrocketing of prices of basic commodities and the spiralling cost of villas and houses, many have opted to leave the UAE and take up jobs in the West.

Mitzel (not her real name), a Filipino nurse who has been working in Al Wasl Hospital for 17 years, told Khaleej Times that she has been witness to the growth of Dubai from a mainly barren municipality to the modern city with skyscrapers all around.

"When I came here, the government provided me free housing and even food. But, nurses lose their accommodation when they marry. Bringing up our children here has become very difficult as everything is expensive, particularly the flats and villas," she lamented.

She has started looking for jobs in the United States, where most Filipino nurses go nowadays because of lucrative offers, including family visas and relocation allowances.

An Indian nurse at Dubai Hospital, who requested anonymity, said she has been working with this hospital for five years. Yet, she has plans to get a job in London as she is feeling the pinch of high cost of living in the UAE.

"If the situation was the same as five years ago, I would stay on. But, it is different now. Everything is getting expensive and the salary raise is not enough to make ends meet in Dubai," she said.

Dr. Mustafa Al Hashim, Director of Al Baraha Hospital, decries the fact that most nurses coming recently to UAE are just making Dubai as the jump-off point to go to western countries.

He said that as of now, the hospital is trying to rotate all doctors and nurses in their duty to make up with the imbalance in the nurse-patient ratio. However, he is pushing for immediate solution to the shortage of nurses in the UAE as the population continues to grow and compulsory insurance is being introduced by the government.

"Previously, people used to go and buy medicines over the counter without a doctor's prescription. But compulsory insurance is changing this trend. Families are turning to hospitals because they know they have insurance coverage," Dr. Al Hashim added.

The Al Baraha Hospital is a 205-bed capacity. It has 200 nurses and 100 doctors yet it is receiving 200 to 300 emergency patients, 10 to 15 new-born babies daily, and around 500 to 800 daily outpatients.

"This number will continue to swell as more insurance-covered workers come to the hospitals and population in this area increases," he said.

The hospitals in the country, including Al Baraha Hospital, have pushed for more benefits, increased salary and improved recruitment system for the nurses. "This is the only way to keep them," he stressed.

Newcomers, many of them without MoH and DoH certificates, are now being accommodated, even though they are on visit visa to narrow the discrepancy. Again, they told Khaleej Times, they just accept this job to get the required overseas experience required of them by hospitals in the West to get better jobs in the US and Europe.

Recognising the shortage of nurses, health officials said several steps have been taken, including allowing nurses on visit visa to take up jobs in the country.

A senior official from the MoH said that the ministry had taken these steps to meet the shortage in both public and private sectors.

"Nurses are permitted to take the nursing examination of the MoH and take up work in the private sector on conditions," said the official.

Among other steps by the MoH to encourage expatriate nurses to join the workforce in the UAE, is reduction of the number of years mandatory to serve at public sector institutes after graduation.

According to the official, at least 43 per cent of the MoH's manpower are nurses. "There were also not enough nurses being supplied by the internal education sector to meet the country's needs, and only four to seven per cent of the country's nurses are nationals," said the official.

He said the shortage of advanced nursing programmes, combined with outdated nursing curricula, have forced many young nursing students to go abroad for their training, which leads to problems as several of them never return.

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