DOH: No mass retrenchment of health workers in 2017

Jee Y. Geronimo
Nurses hired under the DOH deployment program won't lose their jobs since the nature of hiring is on a contractual, short-term basis, says Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial

HEALTH WORKERS. The health department suggests ways on how the country can address its health workforce problems. Nurses file photo by Noel Celis/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday, November 18, addressed lawmakers’ concerns regarding the feared “mass retrenchment” of health workers, especially nurses, in 2017.

The health department said while its deployment program for doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, and medical technologists is “generally successful,” it is still just a “short-term, stopgap measure” to address the country’s health workforce problems.

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto had raised the alarm over the DOH’s proposed 2017 budget, which will lead to a “drastic” downsizing of health personnel under the Rural Health Practice Program. He suggested ways for Congress to intervene in the issue.

Decrease in number of health workers
PROGRAM 2016 2017 (as proposed)
Doctors to the Barrios Program 946 physicians  435 physicians 
Nurse Deployment Program 15,727 nurses 9,349 nurses
DOH-paid dentists 324 dentists 243 dentists

On Friday, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial used the Nurses Deployment Program to illustrate “the whole picture of the current situation.” After all, many nurses in the country remain unemployed or underemployed.

“While it is true that the Nurses Deployment Program reduced the number of hired nurses by 6,970 in 2017, nobody will really lose their job (for those currently hired in the program) because the nature of such hiring is on a contractual basis, not a permanent one,” Ubial said in a statement.

She added, “The proposed 2017 budget for the program raised their salaries and therefore, after adjustments, resulted in fewer hires.”

According to the health department, the Nurses Deployment Program can hire nurses for “higher than usual salary rates” because of the nature of the contract: short-term, for a maximum of one year or two 6-month contracts.

The program is meant not only to provide nurses with experience, but also to absorb good performers in available permanent government posts.

DOH estimated around 12% of deployed nurses are eventually hired, with permanent posts in government hospitals or public health offices.

As for the Doctors to the Barrios Program, DOH said only 70% of the slots for doctors were filled up in 2016. 

There may be available positions and budget for the program, but 30% of available slots remained vacant this year. 

To address the country’s health workforce problems, the DOH said it is pushing for the following:

  1. Exemption of health workforce in the budget fixed for personnel services. “This will allow the [local government units] to hire health personnel according to the needs of their growing population. This is true employment – not the short-term job orders offered by the DOH,” the health department said. 

  2. Fast-tracking the creation of additional personnel positions in government hospitals that have increased their bed capacities. 

  3. Passage of laws that will raise working conditions of and provide flexible incentives for health workers in rural areas. These incentives include support for housing, child education, continuing professional education, and career development through the country’s entire health system. The DOH said they should also be given better civil service protection amid changing political affiliations in local government.

“The DOH is committed to provide health professionals with the necessary support they need to implement effective and efficient programs of the Philippine Health Agenda. We salute the health workers. Without them, all of these efforts would be nothing,” Ubial said.

The proposed cut in the number of health workers comes just as the Philippines is looking to improve its public health system under the Duterte administration.

Ubial even went to Cuba in August to study the Latin American country’s successes in public health. (READ: What PH can learn from Cuba’s health services)

There, she learned that the Philippines needs 35,000 more doctors if it is to adopt the Cuban model in health human resource.

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.