Abu Dhabi: There are just around 250 nurses at Abu Dhabi’s public dialysis centres although the number of patients who require dialysis is doubling every five years, a senior medical expert said here on Monday.

To support patients with chronic kidney disease, there is an urgent need to build a workforce of specialist renal nurses, Dr Marie Richards, director of nursing education at the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) Dialysis Services, told Gulf News.

“At least 400 individuals out of every million people in the UAE is diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, and there is an enormous problem of others who are still undiagnosed. In addition, the rate of people who need dialysis before they turn 30 years old is 10 times higher in the UAE than in the UK,” Dr Richards said.

“What this means is that we have to reach patients before they reach end-stage kidney disease and educate them enough so they can undertake the dialysis at home, or even undergo pre-emptive kidney transplants. At the same time, we also need more renal nurses, especially Emiratis,” she added.

Dr Richards was speaking at the Seha International Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Conference, which concluded in the capital today (September 5). The three-day meeting saw nurses and allied health professionals discuss the challenges in the health sector.

Seha, which manages all 82 public hospitals and clinics in the emirate, set up the first dedicated public dialysis facility in 2011. It currently operate three major centres — two in Abu Dhabi city and one in Al Ain — as well as six other facilities in the Western Region.

Due to genetic factors, chronic kidney disease is more prevalent among Asian and Arab populations. In addition, the high rate of diabetes and hypertension — both diseases that negatively affect blood capillaries and, consequently, the body’s ability to eliminate waste — also contributes to more cases of chronic kidney disease in the UAE.

“Still, we only have one Emirati renal nurse in all our facilities, even though 50 per cent of our patients are Emiratis,” Dr Richards said.

Because there is a worldwide shortage of nurses, it is especially necessary to train more Emirati renal nurses who can help Emirati patients.

To that end, Seha established a masters in Renal Nursing programme at the Fatima College of Health Sciences in 2014. Seven nurses have obtained the 180-credit postgraduate degree so far, and about 27 more are undertaking the programme at present.

“The degree deals with specific knowledge about renal nursing, which is a niche speciality. Nurses need to be well-versed with the technical workings of dialysis machines, and also have know-how on transplantation, paediatric care and inpatient nephrology,” Dr Richards explained.

She added that there is also a need to retain specialist nurses in clinical practice.

“Right now, many nurses who are specialised leave clinical practice in order to advance their careers. But we need them to stay on in patient care. And for this to happen, the system needs to provide them with adequate career growth options and remuneration. We believe this would also attract more Emirati nurses,” Dr Richards said.