MANILA — A multi-sector group on COVID-19 response criticized the Department of Health on Monday for assigning "doctors to the barrios" to private hospitals in Cebu City in light of the critical situation of coronavirus infections there.
According to the Citizens' Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID), the move is "highly irregular and contentious."
Instead of removing rural doctors from areas lacking health professionals, the DOH should “seriously implement” its emergency hiring for health workers, the group said in a statement.
“We need to hire more doctors, not just re-assign those already serving underserved areas,” it said.
“By the name itself, DTTB doctors are hired to fill in the manpower gaps in the rural areas. Priorities for deployment are low income, doctorless municipalities and geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas where the doctor to patient ratio exceeds the recommended 1:20,000.”
“Pulling out doctors from these areas will disenfranchise patients who equally need care. As one doctor puts it, they are also facing an important battle in our own front, looking after non-COVID and COVID patients alike including those who are going home because of the untimely Balik Probinsya Program,” CURE COVID said.
The DOH has explained over the weekend that the temporary assignment of physicians under the Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) program was necessary to address the spike in COVID-19 cases in Cebu City.
CURE COVID, which has health professionals among its members, said that fighting the COVID-19 pandemic should be “a balance between curative and the more equally important public preventive health measures which the DTTB’s are already fulfilling.”
In a statement released on Monday, the DOH reiterated its argument that the very nature of the DTTB program is to deploy doctors “usually to remote areas where access to healthcare is a challenge”, and that there will be municipal health officers in the areas left by the rural health physicians.
The group also said the DOH should not have “abused” the willingness of the doctors to serve anytime “by surprise memos and threats of being charged with insubordination.”
After the DOH confirmed the assignment of at least 40 doctors from Western Visayas to Cebu, two batches of DTTB issued a statement criticizing the “exploitative order.”
The doctors said they were not consulted and are worried that their services "will be abused by private institutions" because of the lack of clear guidelines for their protection.
“The DTTB shouldn’t be unwilling pawns of government’s ineptness. Deploying them to private hospitals, facilities which can hardly be accessed by the poor patients they vowed to serve, needs to be very well explained,” CURE COVID said. “They must be given the right to refuse.”
CURE COVID also pointed out that DTTB program is an agreement among the local government, the provincial office and the Regional Centers for Health and Development of the area where the doctors serve. “Each one should have a say on the conduct of such a re-assignment,” the group said.
It noted that the country has been suffering from lack of doctors even during the pre-COVID-19 period because of such policies as decreasing the number of doctors in provincial and district hospitals to "rightsize" manpower.
CURE COVID said the situation only “sheds light on the sad state of our health care system.”