Philippine healthcare system showing 'signs, symptoms' of collapse: group

Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 03 2023 05:17 PM

A demolition team dismantles the Manila COVID-19 Field Hospital at the Quirino Grandstand on Jan. 4, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File 
A demolition team dismantles the Manila COVID-19 Field Hospital at the Quirino Grandstand on Jan. 4, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File 

MANILA — Problems experienced by health workers in the country are worrying signs and symptoms of a healthcare system that is on the verge of collapsing, health labor group Health Workers United said on Wednesday.

Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Healthcare Workers, said government must act swiftly and decisively to uplift the welfare of workers and prevent the worst from happening.

“Marami na ang umalis sa bansa, lumala ang understaffing, mayroong mga contractuals na talagang umaalis na rin. Ito na 'yung mga signs and symptoms na malapit nang mag-collapse,” he said.

“Sana bigyan na ng antibiotic. Ang antibiotic na 'yan, 'yung pagtaas ng sahod, security of tenure para hindi na totally maramdaman 'yung pag collapse ng healthcare system.” 

(Many have left the country, understaffing worsened, some contractual workers are also leaving. These are the signs and symptoms that the system is near collapse. We hope it could be given antibiotic in the for of salary increase, security of tenure.)

Health workers have repeatedly lamented low wages at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced them to work longer hours than usual. They also raised the chronic understaffing experienced in various facilities, the lack of tenure, and delayed release of long-overdue COVID-19 benefits.

The Department of Health earlier addressed the delay in the release of health emergency allowances (HEA), saying that funds for 2022 were already released to the different regions and that the delay was caused by the late submission of required documents.

In a statement, the Department of Health said over P22 billion worth of HEA was disbursed to healthcare workers.

“The DOH is continuously disbursing the benefits and allowances of healthcare workers in both the public and private sector, through our Centers for Health Development (CHD),” the agency said. 

It said it was continuously encouraging all facilities to coordinate with CHDs in submitting required documents to ensure the timely release of allowances to eligible health workers.

But a worker from neighboring hospital Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center disagreed with the agency’s claim.

“Iko-comply ng hospital, pagka-comply ng hospital, pag na-submit, sasabihin na naman ng DOH may panibago na namang completion. 'Yung 2021 na HEA, ngayon lang namin natanggap which is na-comply na namin noong 2021 pa. Tapos sasabihin ng DOH naidownload na nila eh di sana noong 2021 pa napakinabangan na namin ‘yun,” said nurse Cristy Donguines.

(The hospital would comply, submit, then the DOH would say there's another set of requirements. We received the 2021 HEA only recently, yet the DOH says the funds were already download. If that's the case, we should have been able to receive this back in 2021.)

The Filipino Nurses United also slammed a proposal to mandate new physicians and possibly even nurses to render services in the country for a year before seeking employment opportunities abroad. 

“Para ma-encourage sila na hindi umalis ng bansa at mag stay dito, ipakita mo na maayos ang kanilang kakalagyan na trabaho, na mayroong nakakabuhay na sahod, benepisyo at mayroon talagang maayos at safe na nurse-to-patient ratio. Pag mayroong ganiyan, hindi talaga lalabas ng bansa,” said Maristela Abenojar, president of the group. 

(To encourage workers to say in the country, they should get wages that are enough for their needs, befits, and safe nurse-to-patient ratio. If those are present, health workers would not leave.)

The health agency said it was working with Congress to find ways to increase salaries.

“The DOH is taking part in taking part in the development to standardize the salaries both in the national and local government, as well as in the public and private sectors. Currently, through RA 9173 or the Philippine Nursing Act of 1991, the entry-level position of nurses in the public sector has been set at salary grade 15 or around P36,000,” it said.