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Fri 1 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

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Rows continue over pay deal delays

Public sector doctors ask for pay rise from UAE's Ministry of Health and threaten resignation as deal delays persist.

The UAE Ministry of Health is on a collision course with public sector doctors, a senior consultant has warned, as delays to a pay deal push staff resignations to a new high.

Ministry physicians were promised an overhaul of their pay structure when health minister Humaid Al Qutami took office early last year, after it was revealed that physicians in the northern emirates earn up to 30% less than their counterparts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Now, ministry doctors are threatening to resign unless a review of pay scales brings salaries in line with those paid in neighbouring Emirates.

Dr Arif Al Huriani is a consultant cardiologist and deputy CEO of Al Qasimi hospital, Sharjah. "Our doctors want equal compensation," he said. "There is a clear difference between pay scales here and in Dubai. Why are they not standardised?"

The public sector is losing out to private hospitals, Huriani said, as doctors leave in search of better pay packages.

"The private sector are offering more salaries and attractive compensation packages that are not available at the Ministry level. So we are at a loss," he said.

Public sector physicians claim that increasing workloads, caused by staff shortages, are leaving them overburdened and demoralised. Al Qasimi hospital has already been forced to close wards in response to staff resignations over low pay.

"We lost several senior members of staff at once, and this caused a crisis," Huriani said. "We had to close two surgical units because they weren't cost-effective without the staff to run them."

While the volume of patients seen in government hospitals has escalated dramatically in recent years, the last pay increase given to Ministry physicians was almost a decade ago. And costs of living in the UAE have risen significantly in that time.

Last month, doctors met with Ministry staff to discuss the disparity in funding. Representatives from the Emirates Medical Association (EMA) said physicians were concerned about the impact staff shortages are having on patient care and on remaining employees. A spokesperson said: "Doctors are working more shifts, for no extra pay. Unless something is done, mistakes will happen and patients will suffer.

"The Ministry must keep its promise to improve salaries."

Speaking at the meeting, Dr Mariam Mattar, assistant undersecretary of public health and primary healthcare, told physicians that the Ministry was committed to offering "some increase" in salaries before the end of the year. She declined to give a specific time scale or pay structure, but added, "I am taking full responsibility for what I am saying now."

The Ministry can expect further resignations if it fails to strike a deal with public sector physicians, Huriani warns. "The problems we (Al Qasimi Hospital) have are the same in all government hospitals and public services," he said.

"The Ministry must demonstrate its commitment to its physicians. A pay rise is definitely required."

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