Public health workers deserve more
I received an e-mail from a nurse the other day, and it got to me. Let me quote her:
“My name is Dria. I work as a nurse here in the Philippines. I read your columns and admire your love for this country. I am not sure if you are the right person to send this e-mail to, but it’s worth the try.
“What I am trying to do is to have this country put more value on Filipino nurses. I think this is the only profession that is left that we pay less attention to. It is hard to express in words how hard and physically draining it is to be a nurse here in the Philippines because of the nurse-patient ratio, understaffed hospitals, and the number of unpaid hours we need to render beyond our duty hours. On the other side, the fulfillment it brings to us, the care and comfort we bring to our patients at their most vulnerable state, make it all worth it.
“However, we can’t blame the nurses if they want to practice this profession outside our country because of the significant difference from what a nurse earns here and what other countries have to offer. Not all nurses want to leave their loved ones and work in another country to be able to provide for them. Some are forced to leave due to our system’s inability to provide a decent-paying salary for these professionals. If only our country offers a competitive compensation and a higher pay, nurses may consider staying and rendering their services to our own country. Our country produces the best nurses in the world. Filipino nurses render the best care possible. It will not take long before there will be a lack in the number of nursing applicants in our own country.
“Nurses do not really have [persons] with higher authority to act as our advocates since we do not have politicians or government officials that actually experienced being a nurse here in the Philippines. My point: 1) Put more value on our nurses by providing competitive compensation and offering higher salary. 2) It would be helpful if the newspaper would give nurses a chance or a space to write about this profession for people to hear us out.
“I hope you could help raise awareness that healthcare needs to be prioritized as well, as much as other issues in our country. If you can direct me to the people who can help, or any help to hear us out, it would be greatly appreciated.
“I hope there would be changes before we run out of nurses in our country.”
The Department of Health now has the money, thanks to the higher “sin taxes,” to greatly improve our health system, and much is being done. According to the DOH’s latest annual report (2016), the sin tax incremental revenue added P69 billion to its budget in 2016. Close to half of that P69 billion — or P31 billion — was given to PhilHealth, most of which was used to widen coverage to more people. Of the other half—P38 billion—some P17 billion was used to expand vaccination programs for children below five years old to reduce child mortality and widen programs against HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. The rest was used to deploy additional health workers and upgrade close to 3,000 local government hospitals, rural health units, and barangay (village) health stations in 2016.
Unfortunately, the compensation for nurses and doctors was not addressed. Maybe part of the new money coming in this year from the first package of the TRAIN Law can be used for higher salaries for nurses to bring them up to, let’s say, what a call center team leader makes. At present, entry-level nurses earn about P19,000 a month. I think nurses deserve a basic salary of between P25,000 and P30,000 a month.
We also need to raise the salaries of public doctors. At present, a doctor assigned to the rural areas earns about P56,000 a month. I think this should be raised to at least P90,000 a month if we want to attract more doctors into the program and bridge the current shortage of about 15,000 public doctors.
The government must raise the salaries of public health workers if it wants to stop some 20,000 health professionals from leaving the country for parts overseas each year.
A number of bills urging the government to raise the salaries of nurses and doctors have been filed in Congress, but none has been acted on. Let’s just do it.
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