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Nursing shortage reaches crisis point

A new ruling by the Department of Health and Medical Services (DoHMS) is set to push Dubai’s nursing shortage to crisis point, nursing chiefs have warned.

A new ruling by the Department of Health and Medical Services (DoHMS) is set to push Dubai’s nursing shortage to crisis point, nursing chiefs have warned.

Under new rules, all registered nurses must hold a Bachelor of Science (BSc). Nurses must be registered to perform
complex tasks and work in environments such as operating theatres and intensive care units. The new criteria mean many existing nurses, who only hold nursing diplomas, will be relegated to the role of nursing assistant, despite their specialist experience.

The new policy, set to come into effect on October 1, will make it impossible to adequately staff wards, hospitals have said. “Implementing the policy will mean an acute shortage of qualified nurses,” said Sister Molly Kurian, acting head of nursing at Belhoul Speciality Hospital. “39 of our staff nurses will be disqualified under the new rules. My experienced ICU nurses and many staff nurses don’t have BSc qualifications.”

Anu Chacko, nursing superintendent at Al Rafa Hospital, said: “It will be difficult to maintain quality nursing care.
“We’ll have difficulty staffing theatres because most of our experienced staff are diploma nurses, licensed as assistant nurses under the new rules, and so not permitted to work inside the operation theatre.”

The new policy is as a blow for private hospitals, many of which are already understaffed. Recent reports have shown several UAE hospitals are lacking a quarter of their workforce, as nurses relocate abroad in search of improved pay and working conditions.Sister Molly is unsurprised by the number of resignations, blaming poor salaries and a demanding workload.

“The majority of nurses only get one day off a week, rather than two. They are exhausted,” she said. “Rent is increasing and nursing salaries aren’t, so the nurses leave for countries that will pay them better, like the UK or Canada.”
“Nurses are the face of the health system and if they are incapable of working and are exhausted, they are not going to give good care to the patient.”

But officials have dismissed concerns over patient care, pointing to good nurse-to-patient ratios in critical care units.
Asman Mohammed, acting district director of nursing in Dubai, said: “We are losing a lot of nurses. But no matter how severe the shortage, all the patients get the care they need and no one has complained.”

A&E departments, operating theatres and maternity wards are all well staffed, she added, with ICU units implementing 1:1 care.

Despite pleas from nursing chiefs, the Department has issued official notification of the new policy, warning that hospitals will face spot-checks to ensure they are implementing new rules. In a letter to hospitals, Mohsin Saad Basaalah, director of licensing and specifications, said: “The DoHMS has decided to give six months for the implementation of the scheme. Thereafter, DoHMS authorities will visit your facilities to check you have complied with the requirements.

Hospitals are now hoping the Department will consider upgrading existing staff nurses without BSc qualifications, on the strength of their nursing experience.
“We have asked the DoHMS to consider experience in place of a degree,” Sister Molly said. “We have forwarded a list of nursing assistants and the DoH is deciding at the moment whether they can be upgraded to staff nurses.”

Nursing chiefs have also urged Department officials to consider reintroducing a written exam for nurses. Seniority would then be allocated on the basis of the results.
“A written exam, like in the UK, would be the best answer,” said Sister Molly. “It would give good nurses the chance to qualify on the basis of their skills.”

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