MANILA – Rep. Alfred Vargas, chairman of the House committee on Social Services, urged the Department of Health (DOH) and other government agencies by filing Resolution 2241 to “take immediate steps to address the alarming number of nurses and other health care workers (HCWs) leaving the country in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Vargas expressed concern following reports HCWs have been going abroad “due to the supposedly challenging working conditions” and high COVID-19 cases in public and private hospitals, noting the government should immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the mass migration of nurses.

“It is the duty of the government to ensure that the heroism and dedication of our HCWs are duly recognized and justly compensated,” he added.

In a report by The Philippine Star, Vargas said concerns of HCWs should be immediately addressed as he cited the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines’ warning of a shortage of nurses in the coming months. 

“I am appealing to the DOH to address the concerns and issues raised by our health workers. We need to take immediate action, otherwise our hospitals and our entire health care system will have a hard time addressing not only COVID-19 cases but patients needing regular medical care,” he said.

The Association noted that “nurses are leaving the country for higher-paying jobs abroad, and private hospitals are unable to pay them the equivalent salary to make them stay.”

“Nursing organizations estimate that the country has 200,000 to 250,000 nurses who are not working in their profession, many of whom are waiting for job opportunities abroad with the same COVID-19 infection risks but under better working conditions and substantially higher remuneration,” he added, noting that Filipino nurses “represent the largest category of health workers migrating to other countries, followed by midwives and doctors.”

According to government figures, about 3,000 to 8,000 nurses leave the country annually on permanent visas. 

A case study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) revealed that the Philippines is considered the world’s largest supplier of nurses.

“Filipino nationals (make up) the single-largest group of foreign-born nurses serving in 37 countries that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” The Philippine Star reported.

Currently, the UK has nearly 18,500 Filipinos according to National Health Services (NHS) data and the United Arab Emirates has about 30,000 Filipino nurses.

In a report by CNN PhilippinesEuropean countries such as Spain and Germany are seeking to recruit Filipino nurses due to the rising global nursing shortages caused by the pandemic. 

Cap on Filipino HCWs going abroad

On April 2020, the government through the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) announced the temporary ban of medical frontliners from leaving the Philippines as COVID-19 cases surge.

Days later, the ban has been lifted and the next month President Rodrigo Duterte considered having the Department of Justice (DOJ) look into the legality of banning Filipino HCWs from going abroad “to prevent them from contracting COVID-19.”

By June 2021, the country has increased the cap on HCWs going abroad to 6,500 annually.

“There are reasons to allow health workers to seek good jobs abroad,” DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello said in a news conference. 

“We will make sure we will not run out of nurses and doctors,” he added.

Filipino Nurses United Secretary-Gen. Jocelyn Andamo told Reuters that more than 200,000 nursing graduates chose to work in other industries “because of meager compensation and benefits in the healthcare sector.”

“This is a positive development but hopefully the deployment ban will be fully lifted,” Andamo said.

Meanwhile, numbers provided by DOLE and revealed by DOH Assistant Sec. Kenneth Ronquillo reveal the country is short of around 92,000 physicians, 44,000 nurses, 19,000 medical technologists, 14,000 pharmacists and up to 17,000 radiologic technicians and radiologic technologists. 

Ronquillo noted that it could be the basis for DOLE to put up the cap. 

“If we look at the data that we have in the DOH, (there are) estimated gaps in the premise that all health workers, licensed to practiced, are practicing in the Philippines, then we would have shortages for physicians and radiologic technologists and x-ray technologists,” he said.

In another report by GMA Newsthe Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) expressed concern there may not be enough HCWs in the country in the next few months as nurses choose to work abroad for higher pay. 

PNA lamented the low salary of nurses in the country, noting some working at provincial hospitals receive a salary of at least PHP8,000.

“Hindi naman po kasi kami humihingi ng sobra, ang hinihingi lang namin yung tama para sa ating mga nurses,” PNA President Melbert Reyes said. 

The Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAP), on the other hand, said the resignation of nurses to seek work abroad is now a problem amid the pandemic. 

“Baka few months from now eh maubusan talaga tayo ng ating mga healthcare workersespecially nurses,” PHAP President Dr. Jose Rene De Grano said.

Kung halimbawang hindi kaya ng isang private hospital na mag-provide ng ganoong kalakingsweldo, (dapat) isa-subsidize ng government,” De Grano added.

New York allowed foreign HCWs to practice in hospitals to replace unvaccinated staff 

In another report by The Philippine Star, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order late September to waive existing regulations to allow licensed medical professionals in other countries, such as the Philippines, to practice in New York hospitals to enforce staffing shortages in hospitals and nursing homes as part of a comprehensive plan following the vaccine mandate that will result in unvaccinated workers either terminated or resigning from their jobs.  

“The only way we can move past this pandemic is to ensure that everyone eligible is vaccinated, and that includes those who are taking care of our vulnerable family members and loved ones,” Hochul said in a statement released by her office.