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Tue 29 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Private sector hospitals win staffing compromise

Private sector hospitals have won a government reprieve over new nursing rules that threatened to push the regional shortage to breaking point.

Private sector hospitals have won a government reprieve over new nursing rules that threatened to push the regional shortage to breaking point.

As reported in Healthcare Middle East, the government’s decision to standardise nursing qualifications in Dubai’s private sector prompted an outcry from nursing chiefs already struggling with recruitment. The move saw the Department of Health and Medical Services (DoHMS) insist all registered nurses hold either a three-year general nursing diploma or a Bachelor of Science.

Nurses working in a registered position without these qualifications would be relegated to the role of nursing assistant and would be banned from undertaking roles in specialist environments, such as operating theatres (O.T.) and intensive care units.

Now, following talks with DoHMS officials, hospitals have secured a compromise.

Nursing chiefs have been invited to put forward nurses with a minimum of five years’ O.T. experience, but who would be unqualified under the new rules, to sit an examination, overseen by DoHMS. Candidates that successfully pass the three-part exam will be awarded special privileges for a maximum of five years, to continue working as registered nurses. Within that time period, and supported by their employer, nurses have a one-off opportunity to acquire the qualifications required for the post.

Commenting on the revised plans, Judith Brown, director of nursing at DoHMS, told Healthcare Middle East, “What DoHMS is trying to do is be flexible enough to provide options as to the way people can comply and lift their standards. We will verify that they (nurses) have the competence in that area, but we are saying to the employer that you’ve got a responsibility to train these nurses so they meet the new requirements.

“This is a one-off. Within five years, they must have the qualifications to match the position.”

And because privileges are specific to the nurse in question, their role and the hospital, nurses are more likely to commit to a long-term role in one facility, rather than be stripped of their title. “We’ll have quantity and quality,” said Brown.

Nursing chiefs have welcomed the move, seeing it as an opportunity to upgrade their workforce without further strain on staffing problems. Anu Chacko, nursing superintendent at Al Rafa Hospital, said: “We are relieved DoHMS has at last given us a chance to upgrade our nurses.”

Janis Scarlett, nursing director for Welcare Hospital, said: “I support what DoHMS is doing. It’s an issue of public safety; people have a right to know they have licensed nurses working for them. This measure seems very fair.”

With international competition for healthcare professionals reaching new heights, Brown believes encouraging nurses to gain further qualifications while helping them to maintain their skills base will be a key attraction in fostering a long-term workforce. Australia has reportedly upped its bid to tempt UAE nurses to move, offering generous four-year visas alongside attractive relocation packages, and Scarlett admits local hospitals find it a challenge to retain nurses. “I’ve worked with a lot of nurses who have now gone to Australia,” she said. “The UAE is becoming almost a stopover.”

Welcare Hospital, at least, is fighting back. The hospital is currently in talks with Sharjah University, to agree a discounted rate for the bridging course that qualifies assistant nurses to a registered level.

Under the proposed agreement, Welcare would recruit assistant nurses and then fund them through the programme, in exchange for a fixed term commitment to the hospital.

“The course costs around AED 20,000, but we would save on recruitment fees,” explains Scarlett. “It’s a great opportunity for nurses, because we’re paying for their education, and it’s a small price to pay for a secure staff.”

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