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Wed 11 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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GAHS steps up attack on private sector scams

A government initiative targeting inconsistent industry standards and the prevalence of unlicensed medical staff in the private sector has been stepped up.

A government initiative targeting inconsistent industry standards and the prevalence of unlicensed medical staff in the private sector has been stepped up.

As reported in May’s issue of Healthcare Middle East, the General Authority for Health Services (GAHS) revealed the widespread employment of unregistered staff in the private sector posed a serious threat to patient safety.

“We have discovered clinics with medics working under non-professional visas and no-one is controlling this,” Dr Ibrahim Al Qadi, director of the private medical practice department at the Ministry of Health, said at the time.“They (the clinics) apply for a secretary or a porter’s visa, then allow that person to work on a medical team.

“If something goes wrong, an unlicensed doctor could simply leave the country.”

A shake-up of the visa system was implemented to close this loophole. Tighter regulations were put in place, including the closer issuing of visit visas, whereby medical candidates are permitted to enter the UAE and take licensing exams before gaining residency. Spot checks on clinics and restrictions on the number of visas issued per facility have also been introduced.

Now, health authorities plan a further clamp down on standards of practice by forcing doctors to renew their medical licenses on an annual basis. To date, licenses have been issued every two years, which the ministry believes is too infrequent to accurately ensure doctors fulfill their Continued Medical Education (CME) requirements.

“It has been difficult for us to ensure their competency and keep them abreast of new scientific approaches,” Dr Qadi explained. “We have decided to slash the validity period of licenses granted to doctors, technicians, and health facilities to one year in an attempt to better control breaches committed by this category.”

Allied to this change, a new independent board is being set up under the umbrella of the ministry to oversee all issues relating to continuous medical education, and CME-credited conferences and certification.

The government hopes the new measures will not only prevent unlicensed individuals from gaining employment, but also ensure that operating medical professionals remain fully competent.

“We want to tighten the grip on health centres and clinics that recruit technicians without a license and prevent the continuation of unqualified technicians in medical services,” said Dr Qadi.

Meanwhile, undercover spot checks at hospitals and clinics are providing the ministry with a clearer picture of the current issues threatening patient protection standards. Agents posing as patients in hospitals and clinics are filing confidential reports to the facilities’ directors, which are discussed in detail with the ministry on a monthly basis.

“It’s very confidential,” said Dr Maryam Mattar, undersecretary for public health and primary healthcare at the ministry. “Even Dr Ali Shukoor (undersecretary of the health ministry) doesn’t know the agents’ identities, but their reports are accurate and have no bias.”

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