Keeping The Kingdom Safe

by BTM

Thu, 01 June 2023

Dr Mariam Al-Jalahma NHRA Bahrain

Dr Mariam Al-Jalahma is one of the most important people in Bahrain’s medical sphere, achieving award-winning success in her role as the Chief Executive Officer of the National Health Regularity Authority (NHRA) and as a Member of the National Medical Taskforce for Combatting the Coronavirus (COVID-19). She spoke to Bahrain This Month to discuss her tremendous achievement, the NHRA’s post-pandemic strategy and the general state of the health industry in the Kingdom.

You recently won a prestigious award, please can you tell us more about that and how proud you feel?
The Nelson Mandela Prize for Health Promotion was established in 2019 at the initiative of the Ministers of Health of the Member States of the African Region. It is awarded to persons, institutions and governmental or non-governmental organisations who have made a significant contribution to the promotion of health. The award is intended to reward work that has extended beyond the call of normal duties and is not just a recognition of a professional’s hard work, but is also a testament to the dedication and passion for making a positive impact in the world. 

Throughout my 37 years of working in the health sector, whether as a physician, manager or leader, and during my voluntary work with society, health promotion has always been at the heart of everything I do, and I must say that it has been a rewarding experience. Seeing people adopt healthy lifestyles and make positive life changes is a testament to the effectiveness of health promotion in bringing about positive change. 

What does the NHRA have as strategic aims to achieve for 2023 and then for the next five years?
We aim to achieve our vision through three strategic goals: 

  1. A regulated and accountable healthcare sector. Ensuring that all healthcare facility professionals, medicines and medical devices registered in the Kingdom of Bahrain meet the required licensing standards.
  2. Safe and trusted health services. Through continuous assessment of the quality of health services provided to ensure compliance with accreditation standards and ensure the safety of medicine and medical devices used in the health sector and safety of clinical research.
  3. Protected health rights. By preserving patients’ rights and safety, we will act to protect the rights and the safety of all people using healthcare facilities.

Furthermore, we had two major operational aims to achieve as a priority and we have achieved the first one already. That is, we wanted to be recognised internationally and this year we received it from the International Society for Quality in Healthcare. This ‘ISQua’ means that our accreditation standards stand beside other international bodies such as the Canadian, American and Australian ones.

Our second goal, digital transformation, remains a major operational goal to achieve. In 2022 we dedicated all our efforts to maintain and improve the developed licensing systems ‘Mehan’ for professional licensing, ‘Munshaat’ for facilities licensing, and initiated a new system ‘Ajheza’ for medical device registration. Finally, we successfully implemented the inspection phone app used by the NHRA. We are looking forward to automating all our other services during the next two years.

Has the NHRA got an effective mechanism for dealing with medical malpractice and other problems that arise in Bahrain?
The Kingdom of Bahrain has clear legislation in place to deal with medical errors, and the internal policies and procedures at the NHRA are well defined to deal with such incidents. Our aim is to protect the patient and make professionals aware of malpractice and how to avoid them. For investigating such incidents we have issued two guidelines, one for patients about complaints and the second for the physicians to be aware of their rights and responsibilities. Investigating malpractice is done through independent committees of high calibre cooperating with the NHRA.

Is the number of complaints on the rise as the medical industry evolves and develops in Bahrain?
There is a rise in complaints as patients become more aware of the NHRA’s role, but there is a decline in the percentage of medical errors identified. For example, there was a drop in the medical errors rate from 23.6 percent in 2020 to 17 percent in 2023. 

Can you give a breakdown of the areas of the medical industry with the most complaints?
As per the latest 2023 NHRA data, dentistry was the highest in complaints followed by dermatology. 

Is the NHRA regulating medical equipment and the use thereof, including training requirements and calibration of standards?
Medical Devices Regulation within the NHRA grants all suppliers an approval to import medical devices based on international standards.

As medical devices represent a vast part of patient care, we work to protect the public and promote quality and patient safety by setting appropriate guidelines and policies in-line with international best practices. This is done by providing a harmonised regulatory system to prevent the entrance of ineffective or unsafe devices to Bahrain.

As the ‘watchdog’ of the medical industry which covers a vast area and many fields – can you tell us what the NHRA has as its number one priority in terms of regulation?
I would rather the NHRA be called the guardian angel! To us, our number one priority is always patient safety. As our vision clearly states: safe and high-quality healthcare services; everything we regulate is done to achieve this vision.

Do you have management succession plans in place to ensure development, future growth and to prevent loss of skill and experience in the NHRA?
We have put in place a succession plan and training for our staff. Not only that, but we utilise experts who have retired or work in government and private facilities as our contracted surveyors to carry out the accreditation evaluation. 

Is there anything else you wish to add?
I would like to emphasise that NHRA’s mission is to regulate the provision of healthcare in the Kingdom of Bahrain to ensure high efficiency, safety and effectiveness in delivering health services. This includes both the government and the private sector, based on the best scientific principles and health practice standards accredited in the Kingdom and we are committed to implement this because patient safety is our driving force.