Intensive care units in the emirate are still critically overstretched and understaffed, a health report has found. Statistics published by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) for past year have shown severe gaps in the number of critical and intensive-care beds, and the emergency doctors and nurses needed to staff them.

“The issue around ICU bed capacity and ICU bed utilisation has been a long-standing challenge – not just for health systems in Abu Dhabi and in the GCC but frankly all over the world,” said Ali Hashemi, managing partner at Amana Healthcare, a health provider that offers specialised intensive care to chronically ill patients.

“In emerging healthcare markets like the one we are in, great strides have been made in both the quantity of care that is being delivered and access to the care. “However, right along with the massive amount of investment that Abu Dhabi and other governments are making, the demand is keeping up with, and
even outstripping, investment toe-to-toe. “That is kind of the challenge we face. We are blessed with great growth and prosperity in this part of the world but that puts a continual, increasing burden on the healthcare system. So it is actually quite difficult to keep up.” Haad states that the optimal occupancy rate for critical care beds is 75 percent.

However, beds in units for cardiac, neonatal, coronary, psychiatric, medical and surgical intensive care at government-run hospitals, operated by the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha), were almost all at 100 per cent capacity last year. Special care baby unit beds across the emirate were also above optimal occupancy. Mr Hashemi said Abu Dhabi health regulators had taken great strides to encourage and promote investment into healthcare and to fill gaps in care.Consequently, healthcare investors such as Amana, that were starting toopen facilities in the emirate, were helping to empty beds in overstretched ICUs.

“Nevertheless, there is tremendous scope for continued improvement, continued growth and scope for better management of our patient population and our disease burden,” said Mr Hashemi. Dr Lalu Chacko, medical director of LLH Hospital Abu Dhabi, described the ICU beds shortage as the biggest healthcare problem in the emirate. “These are the ones that save lives but we are really, really short of ICU beds,” he said. He said there were many factors contributing to the shortage, but that one of them was a shortage of trained nurses equipped with the skills to work in an intensive care unit facility. “It is a highly specialised field – it is not easy to get people trained,” said the 46-year-old Indian. “And you can not run an intensive care unit, especially a neonatal intensive care unit, without nurses who are highly skilled.” He said: “Abu Dhabi is an expanding emirate and there is is going to be a more acute shortage of beds in the near future.”

The Haad report said several public and private hospitals were under construction and would provide further capacity for intensive-care beds next year. But by 2020 there needs to be more than 2,200 ICU and general hospital beds. There are 16 hospitals under construction that are more than 50 per cent complete, which should provide an extra 2,859 beds, according to the health body.

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