Sunday, May 14, 2006

Government Health Disservice

I have written before about the UAE's government health service. I have been impressed in the past, but now, sadly, I think it has lost its way and is entering a terminal decline. Why? Well first of all they apparently have no plans whatsoever to build any new facilities to cater to the hundreds of thousands of new residents in West Dubai. They appear to think that their services are not needed, and that all of us 'wealthy expats' can afford private facilities. There is vague talk of introducing a compulsory health insurance scheme but this will undoubtedly cost much more than the current Dhs 300 per year Health Card scheme.

What triggered this was that I had to visit the clinic yesterday to get a fresh supply of the pills I need to take every day. You can actually buy these pills over the counter at pharmacies, but they cost four time more than at the clinic's pharmacy. So, I pay my Dhs 40 consultation fee, wait 45 minutes to see a doctor, and another thirty seconds while he writes out a prescription. I take the script to the pharmacy, where the pharmacist is actually asleep at his desk. I wake him up and he tells me there is a new rule that says clinic pharmacies can no longer supply medicines to expat patients.

This is the first I've heard of this discriminatory and unfair rule - I have seen no mention of it in any of the papers. The logic of it, no doubt, is to save money. But if the health service is struggling for money they can always increase the prices a bit. Cutting off the service altogether is ridiculous! I know for a fact that the majority of the customers at this clinic are very poor subcon or Chinese labourers. Most of them will not be able to afford to buy medications at commercial pharmacies (another of the UAE's price-fixing cartels).

This leaves an interesting paradox. The Jebel Ali Clinic has virtually no national patients - I would be surprised if the total reaches 5%. So you have a fully stocked pharmacy manned by two pharmacists on alternating shifts. They are now effectively being paid to do nothing, which explains why the guy yesterday was asleep.