Muscat: Despite millions of rials being pumped into health care services every year, the government hospitals are still severely understaffed, leading to frequently noticed shortage of experienced and senior medical practitioners.
The Ministry of Health needs to respond to the changing world and an expanding population. Oman is no longer a backward country with villages dominating social life, as was the scenario at one point of time. The rapid expansion of sprawling towns and cities has led to an increased demand for quality health care. A patient used to walk in and see a specialist within an hour but now it takes months.
A major operation would take up to two years. Yet, these are the same hospitals that used to receive 7,000 patients a day 10 years ago and now receive 20,000 across the country. Muscat being the capital city is the hardest hit.
The heath centres struggle to cope and most of them have only two doctors at a time. The major hospitals in Muscat, the Royal Hospital, Al Nahdha and Khoula, don't have enough beds, neither are there enough medical practitioners. The shortage of beds is directly connected to fewer hospitals against an expanding population.
However, the problem of fewer doctors and nurses is different. A principal of a medical college in Oman says that youngsters do not find medicine attractive enough. Why? Because doctors and nurses in the civil service are not paid as well as graduates who find jobs in areas such as business and Information Technology.
It makes sense. There are no statistics available but the same principal estimates that a quarter of all government doctors have two jobs. They work in the morning in state hospitals and in the afternoon in the private medical institutions. It is obvious that they would not be able to make both ends meet if they solely depended on the wages they were paid by the civil service.
And the number of 'renegades,' as they are called by medical insiders, is increasing every year. This practice compounds the woes of our medical sector. When you have the loyalty of doctors divided, they start losing their credibility as professionals.
Since medicine in Oman is a growing but unsatisfying profession, these doctors now treat it as any commodity sold in the market against their ethical training.
A doctor who was in the night shift in a private hospital gets only four hours to sleep to find time for his other job in the government hospital where he has to reach by 7:30 in the morning. He rushes through every patient so that he can go home and catch up on his sleep. He is probably getting more money at the private hospital. Why should he pay more attention at the Royal Hospital or at Al Nahdha? His patients in the government hospital suffer from a decision that allowed him to work for two employers at the same time.It goes further.
The root of many difficulties in the government hospitals is their inability to offer round the clock services. Conditions on weekends and official holidays are even worse. But to work at full stretch seven days a week requires that we recruit more doctors and nurses. We also need more full time consultants, not the ones who hold two jobs. The government cannot share its doctors with the private sector.
Recruiting experienced staff in the government hospitals is another factor that needs closer engagement. It seems that trainees are outnumbering the experienced doctors by a much bigger percentage than the international norms. Many patients complain that they are examined by young doctors who have only a couple of years of experience. To be examined by an experienced doctor is now a rarity in the government hospitals and that's why many patients go out of the country when they have major illnesses. But what about those who cannot afford to undergo treatment abroad?
Obviously, reforms are needed urgently, especially now that we know that the consequences can be serious. Increasing the number of beds by building more hospitals and recruiting more experienced doctors are two of the most important priorities.
A junior doctor can take care of common cold but cannot cope with a painful slipped disc. A patient needing an urgent heart bypass cannot wait two years either. Somebody needs to do a study on how many people die every year unnecessarily because of lack of timely treatment.