House to address shortage of medical workforce

ACKNOWLEDGING the perennial shortage problem in the country’s medical workforce, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Saturday said the House of Representatives will soon tackle bills that would institutionalize the mobilization of non-practicing but qualified medical workers during national emergencies.

Cayetano said national emergencies are “all hands on deck” situations in which readily available manpower is necessary for faster and more effective delivery of service to victims.

“We have so many capable kababayans from the medical community who are willing to help and are just waiting to be tapped. All we need to do is to institutionally allow them to do so,” he added.

Citing Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Dr. Jose Santiago, Cayetano said the Philippines currently has about one doctor for every 1,300 patients, way below the World Health Organization (WHO)’s ideal physician-to-patient ratio of one doctor for every 800 patients.

He also cited the fact that 16 to 19 percent of Filipino doctors and nurses have left the country as reported by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in 2012, which he attributed to the long-neglected low salary of medical professionals in the government.

“Thankfully, the overdue salary increase that we have pursued in Congress has finally been received by our entry-level government nurses. But that should not be the last initiative that our government will make to keep our medical professionals from leaving because we cannot afford to lose more manpower today or in the future,” Cayetano said.

To address this situation further, there are currently four bills pending in the House Defeat COVID-19 Ad-Hoc Committee (DCC) and in the Committee on Health that seek to create a Medical Reserve Corps who will be mobilized in times of national emergencies.

Under House Bills 6809, 6821, 7007, and 7157, the proposed Medical Reserve Corps will be composed of persons who have degrees in medicine, nursing, medical technology, and other health-related fields but have yet to obtain a license to practice due to valid reasons.

In his fifth State of the Nation Address on July 27, President Rodrigo Duterte had urged the House and the Senate to pass such legislation to augment the medical workforce, especially in this time of pandemic.

Meanwhile, Cayetano reiterated the House’s commitment to passing the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan) II, which includes provisions that would enhance the protection of and compensations for public and private medical frontliners.

“In the House version of Bayanihan II, we put a provision that will continue the COVID-19 Special Risk Allowance, which was in the expired Bayanihan to Heal as One. We’re also pushing for free insurance for our medical frontliners — one less burden for our overworked frontliners,” he said.