Health workers groups give Marcos failing grade on actions for sector's welfare

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 20) — The Marcos administration received a failing grade from some healthcare workers groups, which said the government was "numb" to their calls for decent wages and other actions to improve their sector's welfare.

"Sa FNU (Filipino Nurses United), bagsak (sila) kasi walang substantial na action or even steps kaya walang nakitang kumbaga liwanag towards sana sa tunay na pagbabago o improvement ng kalagayan ng nurses," FNU secretary-general Jocelyn Andamo said in a briefing Thursday.

[Translation: For FNU, we give them a failing grade because there is no substantial action or even steps towards true change or improvement on nurses’ welfare.]

The briefing for the "state of people's health" was also joined by the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) and the Health Alliance for Democracy, presenting a medical abstract to show the administration also has "excessive and obsessive focus on the interests of family, cronies, and foreign capitalists."

"Dismayado kami sa pamumuno niya for one year kasi doon sa usapin ng libreng serbisyo pangkalusugan, doon sa gamot na dapat wala ng VAT (value added tax) the same time 'yong usapin ng malalang contractualization, chronic understaffing, at napakababang sahod," AHW national president Robert Mendoza said.

[Translation: We are dismayed in his first year of leadership on the issues of free health services, and VAT-exempted medicine, and at the same time on serious problems of contractualization, chronic understaffing, and low wages.]

"Manhid na presidente at walang silbing presidente [Numb and useless president]," claimed Albert Pascual, Health Alliance for Democracy secretary-general, saying the Marcos administration was numb to the demands of ordinary healthcare workers and public health.

Hiring of underboard nursing grads not a solution

Health Secretary Ted Herbosa has been pushing for the hiring of unlicensed nursing graduates as a temporary solution to the thousands of vacancies in government hospitals.

The Department of Health (DOH) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) on Wednesday signed a joint administrative order on the implementing guidelines for the Nurse Workforce Complementation and Upskilling Program.

In a statement, the agencies said the guidelines will facilitate the hiring and upskilling of underboard nursing graduates as clinical care associates in both public and private hospitals. They said this augments the health workforce and serves as preparation for the licensure exam.

"Tingin ng FNU, 'yong sinasabi ni Herbosa na [We think that Herbosa's] out-of-the-box approach to hire non-licensed nurses will not resolve the problem of severe understaffing nor it would mitigate the exodus of nurses," Andamo said.

Jose Cueto Jr., a commissioner from the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), earlier told CNN Philippines that about 50% of roughly 600,000 PRC-registered nurses are migrant nurses, based on 2021 data from the DOH. While the remaining half are in the country, not all of them are practicing their profession, he added.

Meanwhile, public hospitals are in immediate need of 4,500 nurses. The DOH also said the country is in need of nearly 130,000 of these medical professionals, which may take 12 years to fill.

READ: PRC: Shortage of nurses not considered a national emergency to issue temporary licenses

Andamo also mentioned that proposals of CHED, such as creating TESDA healthcare associates, a shortened masters' program to increase the faculty, and special classes for nursing aides, are just stop-gap measures "that could compromise the quality of healthcare for our people."

"Ito ay pag-ignore sa [This ignores] nurses' long demand for higher wages and improved working conditions. which are the core issues that drive away our nurses to other countries and even in our nursing career," she added.

The groups also urged the government to increase the budget for the healthcare sector to 10% of the country's gross domestic product.

They said this could improve the reach of health services to every Filipino, especially those located in far-flung areas, and solve the manpower shortage in public hospitals.

Herbosa earlier noted that the DOH secured more than ₱300 billion from the national expenditure program, but also said he would push to "triple" the allotted budget. 

CNN Philippines correspondent Kaithreen Cruz contributed to this report.