Seven thousand more nurses are needed across the UAE, if standards are to improve.
The country must hire up to 30 per cent more nurses to overcome a staffing shortage but the problem that could be answered by a new unified licensing body, according to an article in The National.
The secretary of the Nursing and Midwifery Council told the daily paper that low wages, low status and limited career progression are all factors influencing the shortage.
There are approximately 23,000 nurses and midwives working across the seven emirates. An increase of 30 per cent would bring the number to almost 30,000.
The council believes that creating one body to oversee the licensing and regulation of nursing will alleviate some of the burdens. Currently there are different licensing rules for Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the northern Emirates. Requirements about educational qualifications, experience and primary source verification differ depending on which body - Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, Dubai Health Authority or the Ministry of Health - is licensing the nurse or midwife.
The new council also plans to increase and improve nursing and midwifery education and develop strategies to encourage more nurses to take up specialities such as neonatal and intensive care. There are plans to introduce accredited courses to ensure the uniformity and quality of training.
Dr Fatima al Rifai, the director of the federal department of nursing at the Ministry of Health and secretary of the new council, said the shortage of nurses and midwives - which is a global phenomenon - was compounded in the UAE by the perceived low status of the profession.
"A lack of unified regulation also affects the identity and image of nurses and midwives," she said. "It is very important that we develop national scopes of practice and we believe we will be able to do this. By 2015 we would like to have a new system where nurses and midwives only need to register with one agency and will all meet the same minimum standard."
"We would like to have one criteria related to the competency and education and required experience," Dr Rifai added, "Every patient should be receiving the same level of nursing or midwife care regardless of where they are in the UAE. We will benchmark the requirements against international standards."
As well as making it easier for nurses to work in the UAE and develop their careers, a unified registry would allow hospital and clinic bosses to ensure their employees meet standards.
Alison Ramsay said the council's plans would help her to recruit up to 500 nurses over the next five years in her role as director of nursing and quality at the German General Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
"This means there will be consistency across the country so that we know a nurse working in any part of the UAE has gone through the same licensing requirements," she said. "It means we can have the confidence that the nurses we are employing are of the right level of education that meets international standards."
One of the main problems in the nursing sector here is the lack of opportunity to enter specialist roles, Dr Rifai said, adding that improving specialist education and encouraging career progression was key.
Wendy Hewitt-Sayer, the director of nursing at Dubai Hospital, said developing specialist education in the UAE would be an "amazing step forward" and would stop the need for nurses to travel abroad to train.
According to the Ministry of Health, only four per cent of nurses are Emiratis. The council would like to increase the number in line with the demographics of the country."The public image of nursing is an issue. We want to make it a more professional role and more desirable," said Lauren Arnold, a health care consultant to the council.
"Hopefully more and more Emiratis will choose nursing as a career option."