DOH: Overseas deployment cap must stay as Philippines needs 106,000 nurses

Filipino nurse Marciana Erispe tends to a mother inside the maternity ward of the government-run Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Manila, Philippines, September 18, 2020. The Department of Health (DOH) revealed that there's a 106,000 nurse shortage in the Philippines. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)
Filipino nurse Marciana Erispe tends to a mother inside the maternity ward of the government-run Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Manila, Philippines, September 18, 2020. The Department of Health (DOH) revealed that there's a 106,000 nurse shortage in the Philippines. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

Due to the "migration" of Filipino health workers abroad to seek better opportunities, the Philippines has incurred a shortage of around 106,000 nurses, said Department of Health (DOH) Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire in a press briefing.

In this regard, the health department wants to retain the annual deployment cap of 7,000 for newly-hired medical professionals abroad.

"We have a shortage or a gap of around 106,000 para mapunuan natin yung mga facilities natin all over the county, both for public and private (in order for us to fill our facilities all over the country, both public and private)," said Vergeire.

Kailangan po namin ang tulong ninyo sa ngayon para mag-continue po ang operations ng bawat facility dito sa ating bansa,” she added, noting that the DOH has over 2,000 unfilled plantilla positions, including 624 for nurses, 1,332 for midwives, and 63 for dentists.

(We need your help so that the operations in the facilities in our country can continue.)

The DOH OIC stressed that the annual deployment ceiling for health workers overseas should continue to be low, as she is set to meet with the Department of Migrant Workers and Department of Labor and Employment to discuss offering incentives to health professionals who will stay in the country.

"Hanggang sa kulang pa po ang produksyon ng ating bansa sa mga specific healthcare workers professionals na ito, sana po yung deployment cap natin ay manatili lamang sa ganun," said Vergeire.

(As long as our production of healthcare workers professionals is inadequate, our deployment cap should continue to be low.)

However, the nurses' group Filipino Nurses United said in an interview with DWIZ on Friday (September 30) that health workers have continually lobbied the government over the issues that are forcing them to go abroad, such as inadequate salaries, benefits, and support.

"Bakit po umaalis ang maraming nurses, yan po ang laging tanong. Pero ang sa kalagayan po ngayon, napakababa ng sahod ng maraming nurses at tumatanggap lamang po sila ng mahigit 500 kada araw. Samantalang ang inaalok po sa atin sa labas ng bansa ay P200,000 hanggang P300,000 kada buwan," Jocelyn Andamo, FNU’s secretary-general, said.

(Why are so many nurses leaving the country, that’s what they always ask. But in our case, many nurses are only getting a salary of P500 a day. Compare it to the usual offers we get abroad of between P200,000 up to P300,000 monthly.)

Andamo noted that while DOH’s standard nurse-to-patient ratio is 1:12, in reality, nurses in the Philippines attend to between 20 to 50 patients. He added, "Bukod po dun sa sahod ay yung kalagayan po sa aming paggawa, nurse work conditions. Yan po ang matagal na po naming sinasabi sa ating pamahalaan na hirap na hirap po ang mga nurses dahil bukod pa sa napakalaki ng risk, napakalaki ng responsibilidad ay sobra-sobra po ang workload."

(Aside from the salary is our work conditions, the nurse work conditions. That’s what we’ve been telling the government all this time, that nurses are having a hard time because of the heightened risks and responsibility, as well as too much workload.)

In reality, said Andamo, not all nurses really want to go abroad, but the rising cost of living forces many to seek greener pastures and take a job outside the country. "Dagdag pa po sa frustration sa mga dapat natatanggap katulad ng mga COVID benefits, marami pong nurses ang humihingi sa amin ng tulong para ipaabot namin sa DOH ang problema nila."

(Added to our frustration are the benefits we should’ve been receiving like COVID benefits, with many nurses asking us for help to tell DOH of their problems.)

Earlier this month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that Singapore is looking to recruit more Filipinos for the allied health care industry, as the city-state had been impressed by the work of Filipino healthcare workers during the pandemic.

He also signed a bilateral agreement that will pave the way for the continued deployment of Filipino health workers to Singapore.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates. The views expressed are his own.