Clinics exposed in illegal visa scams

A senior UAE government official has accused the private health sector of employing unlicensed medical staff and of “widespread” illegal visa trading

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By  Joanne Bladd Published  May 8, 2006

A senior UAE government official has accused the private health sector of employing unlicensed medical staff and of “widespread” illegal visa trading, raising fears about patient safety. In an exclusive interview with Healthcare Middle East, Dr Ibrahim Ali Al Qadi, director of the private medical practice department at the Ministry of Health, said private clinics are employing doctors and nurses who are not licensed to practice in the UAE. The clinics are evading the visa system by registering doctors or nurses as non-professionals, such as administrative staff, yet allow them to work as medics. Dr Qadi said: “We have discovered clinics with doctors and nurses working under non-professional visas. The clinic has applied for a visa for a secretary or porter, and then allowed this person to work as a member of the medical team, without proper evaluation by the Ministry.” The discovery has raised questions about the level of patient protection in the private sector since unregistered medical staff could easily abscond if faced with an investigation. Dr Qadi said: “No-one is controlling this. If something goes wrong, an unlicensed doctor could simply leave the country. No-one is accountable for patient safety.” Under the current visa system, companies can apply to the Ministry of Labour for non-professional visas and for visit visas for medical staff, without recourse to the Ministry of Health. Visit visas allow medical candidates to enter the UAE and sit licensing exams. Once they have passed the exam, their sponsor can apply for a residents visa on their behalf but must have an official letter from the Ministry of Health to prove they are qualified to work. It is illegal to employ unlicensed medical staff. In a twin controversy, Dr Qadi admitted the ministry also suspects clinics of visa trading scams. He said: “We have noticed small clinics applying for a large amount of non-professional visas, more than they need for their manpower requirements. They are illegally trading them on for money." Referring to the extent of the scams, he added “This is happening across the UAE.” The admission follows news of a shake-up of the visa system. The ministry is proposing tighter visa regulations for the private sector, to close the loophole on medical staff, amid fears of government liability. New measures will include closer issuing of visit visas, regulation of the number of visas issued per clinic and spot checks on staff to ensure jobs and visas correspond. “Doctors will only be allowed to arrive one week before the exam,” Dr Qadi said. “If they pass, they can begin the visa process, but if they fail they must leave the country. No visa will be issued for medical staff unless prior approval has been obtained from the Ministry of Health. “We will also monitor clinics to ensure visas are being used correctly.” The new measures, Dr Qadi continued, will also safeguard medical staff against exploitation. “There are hundreds of cases of victimisation where medical candidates, recruited illegally, are underpaid and deprived of their legal rights,” he said. “It is cheap labour for private clinics. What was once a small problem has become widespread. Under the new measures, doctors and nurses will be protected.” However, the driving force behind the visa proposals is patient safety, Dr Qadi stressed. “The Ministry’s big priority is protecting patients and protecting our community,” he said.

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