Imee: No Time To Waste For Nursing Reforms

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With final budget deliberations to begin in November, Senator Imee Marcos has urged fellow lawmakers to support proposed reforms for the nursing profession, in anticipation of “inseparable public health and economic challenges” in the months to come.

A global nursing shortage, which the International Council of Nurses put at 17% , has created higher-income opportunities abroad for Filipino nurses but whose departure will weaken the country’s ability to cope with public health emergencies during pandemics and natural calamities, Marcos said.

The Philippines itself is short by about 106,000 nurses, according to September 30 data of the Department of Health (DOH), while the Hamburg-based survey and statistics firm Statista reported that the country only had 8.03 nurses for every 10,000 Filipinos – only 29% of the ideal nurse-to-patient ratio of 27.5 : 10,000 as stated in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“Our own shortage of nurses and the fear of an unforeseen pandemic or widespread natural calamity like an earthquake call for their presence here. On the other hand, they are breadwinners helping their families cope with the ever-rising cost of living,” Marcos explained.

With the peso forecast to weaken further against the dollar in coming months, Marcos acknowledged that nurses’ remittances will help shore up the country’s foreign currency reserves.

The government is still calibrating its policy on nurse deployment abroad, amid conflicting recommendations from the Health and Labor departments regarding the annual deployment cap of 7,000 nurses.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration told Marcos’s office that, as of the second week of October, the average monthly deployment of about 500 nurses left some 2,000 slots open for the rest of the year.

Beyond the stopgap measure of resetting deployment limits, Marcos recommended coupling scholarship programs for nurses with pledge-of-service agreements to which the Philippine Nurses Association agrees.

“This long-term solution will give nursing students the educational security they need, while the country can expect a steady workforce of new nurses each year. Until such incentives can be legislated, the government should not curtail a nurse’s choice to leave for work overseas,” Marcos explained.

Another legislative measure which Marcos said can convince Filipino nurses to stay in the country is for Congress to raise their salary grade in private hospitals to Level 15 – a minimum of Php35,097, as of 2022 – which up to now has only been applied in government healthcare institutions.

Marcos also called on the Department of Budget and Management to rethink its policy of excluding contractual nurses from the salary upgrade, and for the DOH to prioritize them for regular employment.

“Even contractual nurses were tried and tested during the Covid-19 pandemic. Buwis-buhay din sila gaya ng mga regular (They also risked their lives like regular nurses),” she emphasized.

Congress can also give permanence to healthcare workers’ special risk allowances, which will expire when the state of public health emergency ends on December 31, the senator added.