After nurses in 10 hospitals staged a wildcat strike early last week, doctors threatened to also call a “time out” on treating patients.

This came after the national government continued to fail to release the benefits due the frontliners in the war against COVID-19.

Dr. Maricar Limpin, president of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), said in an interview with local media that while the situation of the country’s health workers was “already noisy” following the nurses’ strike, the doctors also had their own valid grievances.

A similar limited work stoppage is one of the options the PCP is considering, said Limpin.

Doctors, nurses, and support staff in the country’s private and public hospitals were exhausted to the point of being nauseous, said Limpin, who added that  they not only faced regular physical stress but “emotional and physical” stress as well.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anna Ong-Lim said most health workers had reached their physical limits and too many were falling sick.

Day by day since the latest surge of COVID-19 spurred by the Delta variant, long lines were forming outside emergency rooms.

Worst of all, the number of daily cases is expected to skyrocket to all-time highs in the latter half of September, with a worst-case projection of up to 43,000 cases, the Health department said last week.

This, after the DOH had earlier stated that daily cases would peak at 20,000 before sliding down to more manageable levels by mid-month.

Their situation appeared to turn from bad to worse after the Health department’s budget for next year saw a major slash in health workers’ benefits.

The SRA or special risk allowance for frontliners was not included in the budget submitted for next year.

To their credit, the nurses who went on strike last week did so without disrupting operations of the hospitals where they worked, as they held their mass action on staggered basis.

The PCP head said they were aware of the consequences of staging a similar mass action, and that they would likewise make sure that the lives of patients would not be endangered.

Limpin said they were wary of adding to the noise created by the nurses but their situation remained desperate due to the absence of government assistance.

She added that many hospitals were also facing shortages of medicines needed for COVID patients.

The National Expenditure Program for 2022 allots PHP17 billion (about US$340 million) to the Health department’s human resources but “there is none for SRA, meals allowance, and transportation allowance,” said Rep. Stella Quimbo.

Embattled Health Sec. Francisco Duque III said the additional budget for health workers “is lodged in the Bayanihan 3 bill that was submitted earlier.”

The three Bayanihan bills allotted billions of pesos for healthcare workers but much of the funds have not been released, leading to the threatened protest from doctors and nurses.

Duque was blamed for his slow response to the crisis, leading to more allies of the President to join the calls for the Health secretary’s resignation.

While President Duterte had earlier said he was standing by his Health secretary even if it caused his own downfall, he later changed his tune and said he would accept Duque’s resignation if it was submitted “willingly.”

Last week, the Philippines crossed the two million milestone of coronavirus cases, with half of that number being recorded in the last four months.

In an attempt to stem the tide, the government announced the continuation of its modified enhanced community quarantine to cover Metro Manila and 15 provinces. The strictest lockdown protocol will last until September 7, after which the government will decide to either extend it further or soften the lockdown protocols which have caused serious damage to the country’s economy.

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