The Ministry of Health has identified salaries and staff safety as the key issues driving “shortages” in the number of trained medical staff coming from abroad to work at hospitals in the Maldives.
Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health Geela Ali said that authorities were in the process of trying to recruit a number of medical specialists from across the region, adding that efforts were needed to overcome the various “issues” limiting interest from foreign professionals in coming to the Maldives.
The comments were made as Dr Mohamed Habeeb, presently in charge of Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’, last week raised concerns in local media about a serious shortage of doctors, which he said was having a major impact on services.
IGMH Media Correspondent Zeenath Ali explained to Minivan News today that although paediatric services had been suspended temporarily at IGMH three months ago due to a lack of qualified staff, the services were now operating as normal.
“Previously, we had an issue with the numbers of doctors due to some resignations and contracts finishing,” she said of the difficulties faced three months ago.
Zeenath added that while the issue of having no paediatric staff had since been resolved, IGMH has requested assistance from the Health Ministry in recruiting additional medical specialists to meet patient demand in the capital.
Despite this high demand for medical services, she said IGMH had not since been forced to terminate entire services at the hospital as a result of staff numbers.
“We have four paediatricians presently working at the hospital. But it remains difficult on the international market to try and attract paediatricians to join us,” she said.
According to Zeenath, IGMH has also requested that additional anaesthesiologists be hired to meet the hospital’s present workload. She added that the Ministry of Health was said to be working on recruiting more staff to cope with patient demand.
Speaking about these recruitment efforts, Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Geela said there was presently a shortage of medical staff at hospitals and health centres across the country as a result of ongoing issues – not least in the basic salary packages offered by the state.
“We have been running adverts to try and find qualified staff across the region, but so far we are not seeing adequate response from other countries,” she said.
Geela claimed that salary was among the most prevalent issues authorities had identified as being responsible for shortages in medical staff, with the government pledging to raise wages from January 2014 should the proposals gain parliamentary approval.
“This will allow us to offer better salaries from 2014 and we hope there will be more interest internationally,” she said.
Another challenge for attracting foreign medical staff was ensuring the safety of staff, particularly in the outer atolls.
Geela said that the Health Ministry could not alone ensure safer working environments for foreign medical staff, with wider support from the government and public needed.
“We need a societal approach to try and combat this problem. When we place staff on islands, community support is required to make sure they are looked after,” she said.
IGMH’s orthopaedic department temporarily ceased working last month after a group of people allegedly threatened a member of staff who had refused to provide a doctor’s note for overseas treatment through the Maldives’ nationwide health insurance scheme, ‘Aasandha’.
A patient, who asked for the doctor’s recommendation to receive medical treatment abroad, was first told by IGMH that such a recommendation could not be made because his injury could be treated in the hospital, according to a statement issued by IGMH.
The hospital claimed the man then refused treatment from IGMH before coming back to the hospital with a group of 10 men who threatened to attack the doctor, stating that he too would have to seek medical treatment through ‘Aasandha’ if he did not write the recommendation note.
The hospital at the time said it was considering the use of police officers maintain security on site following concerns about threats of violence to staff.
Minivan News reported in September 2012 on the alleged widespread intimidation, fraud and “substandard” treatment by patients, health authorities, local staff and the country’s courts faced by expatriate medical professionals in the Maldives.