The Philippines may run out of nurses in three to five years if nothing is done about their leaving for better-paying jobs abroad, Health Secretary Ted Herbosa said Tuesday.
To address this problem, Herbosa proposes granting temporary licenses to board-eligible nursing graduates and have them work as nurses in government hospitals.
He said at the moment, there were 4,500 vacancies in over 70 Department of Health (DOH) hospitals nationwide.
In an interview on radio dzBB, Herbosa said he was focusing on the looming shortage of nurses, the supply of which could be exhausted in three to five years.
He said he is planning to take in nursing graduates who scored 70 to 74 percent in the board exam to work for the government, even though they did not pass the exam, as long as they retake it and pass the board exam after a period of time.
These temporary licensed nurses will then have to render up to four years of return service to a government hospital after they pass their board exam before they are allowed to go abroad.
He acknowledged that this was only a temporary solution, but said it could head off a crisis in years to come.
“I saw the figures More nurses are leaving than what we are producing,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Senator Nancy Binay, however, said a thorough study must be undertaken before the DOH taps unlicensed or board-eligible nurses.
“We should first listen to their sector. There should be a deep and extensive consultation, including the allied sectors in the medical field,” she said.
She said she also wants to see first a clear and concrete DOH program for hospitals as far as alleviating the plight of health care workers is concerned.
Binay also said the most practical way to narrow the gap was to hire unemployed nurses.
She also said if there is a budget for hiring unlicensed nurses, that money should just be given to existing nurses.
Former Philippine College of physicians (PCP) president Dr. Anthony Leachon, on the other hand, said that although there is a lack of nurses, there were certain legal, moral and accountability issues in hiring unlicensed nurses.
“We should not espouse a culture of mediocrity,” he said.
He recommended a health human resources summit involving all the major medical groups.
“We need to have short term , medium term and long term plans towards the realization of the Universal Health Care [Law], “ he said.
Binay said if the DOH is serious in fixing the whole system, address the gap and make the pay of health care workers competitive.
“We in the Senate are willing to provide the necessary tools and budget to improve the state of our public health,” she said.
The DoH proposal, supported by Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, will allow non-board passers to work in state hospitals under supervision and with temporary licenses.
Non-board passers will be given four years to pass the Philippine Nurse Licensure Examination.
After passing the board exam, they have to sign a four-year return service agreement and work in a government hospital.
Meanwhile, Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza called for the review of barriers to employment, such as the difficulty in passing board exams amid “the shortage of medical professionals, especially nurses.”
In a speech at the House plenary, he cited the perennially low passing rate in licensing examinations, saying from 2017 to 2022 in 36 professions, the passing rate was only 52.58 percent, or half the number of examinees.
“Half of the total number of examinees flunked. What our newly appointed Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa said is correct. The Professional Regulation Commission needs to relax the rules. However, the solutions must be long-term rather than stop-gap measures,” he said.
— Rio N. Araja and Macon Ramos-Araneta
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