Give doctors dignity they deserve

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THIS IS a reaction to the Inquirer editorial of Nov. 14 regarding the Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) program. The editorial meant well; unfortunately, some of the issues it raised were framed rather inaccurately.

On the recruitment of DTTBs by the Department of Health which reportedly netted 114 new recruits this year, on top of the doctors already deployed to the poorest municipalities since last year, this is not true. The 114 new DTTBs were products of two scholarships—PinoyMD and Bagong Doktor Para sa Bayan, which entitled them to DOH items or positions enabling them to render “return of service.” Their number was already known 3-5 years ago. Hence, no recruitment took place this year.

On the statement that government is doing its bit to sweeten the deal not only with incentives such as clothing, subsistence, laundry and hazard allowance, this was true with the previous batches of DTTBs who were given regular plantilla items. This year’s 114 new doctors are in the DTTB program with a contract of service, and so they are not entitled to benefits coming from the government or mandated by the Magna Carta for Health Workers.

The contract of service that the new batch signed places them under “Rural Health Service” under the DTTB program. However, a closer look at this contract of service would show that it violates provisions of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Doctors to the Barrios Program, by virtue of which these doctors are supposed to be given regular items.

The DOH explanation for this sudden shift in employment practice is the lack of plantilla items. Only 80 plantilla items were available under the program due to the limited budget for personnel services. Since there were 69 DTTBs hired last year, only 11 items were left for this year’s 114 new doctors. The DOH did not prepare its plantilla to accommodate the 114 DTTBs expected to join the program this year. Failing thus, it opted to take them in under a contract of service.

In sum, the DTTB program pioneered by former Health Secretary Juan Flavier has been distorted to suit the government’s goal of “no doctorless municipalities.” The 114 doctors are deployed to the field as contractual employees—without benefits and without any protection as public health workers. Despite the injustice, their dedication to service remains steadfast. Despite the injustice, they have chosen to practice their profession in underserved areas.

With this system, how can we ensure that doctors would want to serve poor isolated areas, when they know full well they can work better in more comfortable institutions that provide them with security of tenure? How can we achieve “no doctorless areas” when we resort to “Band-Aid” measures that do not provide our doctors with just compensation? How can we achieve sustainable Kalusugang Pangkalahatan (Health for All) when we cannot even give the doctors the utmost dignity they deserve?

—DR. JR ONG AND THE NEW DOCTORS TO THE BARRIOS, dttb.30@gmail.com

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