With DOH budget cuts, 10,000 workers to lose jobs

By: Leila B. Salaverria - Inquirer.net - Inquirer.net | October 11,2019 - 10:19 AM

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto warned on Thursday that more than 10,000 health workers would lose their jobs next year because of deep cuts in the proposed budget for 2020 of the Department of Health (DOH).

More than 7,000 of those who would lose their jobs are nurses, Recto said.

They would be thrown out because of the P9.39-billion cut in the DOH budget for next year, which included the P6.05-billion reduction in the allocation for the Human Resources for Health Deployment Program, or HRHDP.

Only P2.45B for personnel

For 2019, the program has P8.5 billion in the DOH budget, plus P3.8 billion from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF), which Recto said was under the control of the Department of Budget and Management.

But for 2020, the HRHDP was allocated only P2.45 billion in the DOH budget, he said.

“Seven thousand one hundred-seven public health nurses are feared to lose their jobs in the coming year, the same number as islands in the country,” Recto said in a statement.

“If not reversed, it will turn us into an archipelago of dismissed nurses. It is a kind of hospital discharge that is the most unkind,” he added.

Recto noted that there is a pledged augmentation of P7 billion from the MPBF, which could bring the funding for the HRHDP to P9.245 billion. But the release of the amount from the MPBF, he said, is not automatic and is subject to conditions.

He said the P2.45 billion in the DOH budget would cover only the employment of 3,854 of the 17,293 nurses deployed this year.

Pink slips for 7,107 nurses

If the 6,322 nurses to be funded by the MPBF are added, there could be 10,186 hired and rehired in 2020, he said.

“Under this best scenario, 7,107 nurses will still be given pink slips next year,” he added.

He also said the number of dentists would be reduced to zero next year from 202 this year, and rural health centers would suffer.

There would be zero medical technologists deployed in 2020 as well, from 597 this year, he said.

All in all, 10,921 currently employed health personnel would lose their jobs next year, he said.

“This is equivalent to 4 in 10. A plague-like 40-percent casualty rate,” he said.

Recto proposed that the budget for the deployment of  health personnel be increased by P6.55 billion.

“We have to do this because the health professional deployment and dispersal program is one of the lynchpins of the Universal Health Care (UHC) program. Thus, the UHC should be launched with a great leap forward in the number of doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives, medical technologists and other health workers to unserved and underserved, poor and far-flung areas,” he said.

‘Great retreat’

The proposed budget cuts indicate a “great retreat,” he added. 

“The usual pretext of absorptive and procurement problems on why the cuts have to be inflicted, and why critical personnel have to be excised from the communities they serve, does not apply in this case,” Recto said.

Sen. Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate’s finance committee, asked the DOH to provide Congress with an inventory of  all of its staff.

Angara said he wanted to know if the budget for health personnel was enough.

“Does this fulfill a major mandate in the universal heath care law, which is to build up and boost our national pool of health professionals?” he said.

Angara said he believed there were too few dentists deployed throughout the country.

Funds for nurses’ pay

He also said there were 4,000 new physicians who had just passed the board exam and he believed many of them wanted to work in underserved and unserved areas.

Also on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that if the government could buy a P2-billion jet for the President, it could also find funds to increase the pay of government nurses.

Drilon called on the Senate to trim the “excess fats” from other items in the P4.1-trillion proposed budget for 2020 to give higher pay to nurses, who, the Supreme Court has ruled, should be under Salary Grade 15, or a minimum monthly pay of  P19,845 to P30,531.

The Supreme Court handed down the ruling in upholding the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 during a full-court session on Tuesday. 

But the court said it could not compel Congress to implement the salary prescribed by the nursing law.

Congress, it said, should pass a law for the nurses’ pay and provide funds for it.

“If the government is willing to buy a P2-billion jet and if it can boldly ask Congress for a record-breaking P8.2-billion intelligence and confidential fund, I do not see any reason why we cannot fund the adjustment in the salary of our nurses,” Drilon said in a statement.

“We owe it to our nurses who provide patients 24/7 health care in overcrowded government hospitals, which sometimes comes at the expense of their own health and well-being,” he added.

Drilon said the Senate could source the funds from the P63-billion MPBF, the proposed P6-billion budget for the 2020 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, which would be reset anyway, and unused revenue from the sin tax law.

He noted that the government expects to collect some P100 billion this year from excise collections on tobacco products and alcoholic beverages. The revenue is used to fund health care programs.

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