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Ways sought to augment medical workforce

MANILA, Philippines — How do you solve the shortage of medical workers in the country as it struggles to stem the spread of the coronavirus illness?

A group of nurses on Monday urged the Department of Health (DOH) to launch a mass hiring of doctors and nurses instead of asking them to do volunteer work.

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One senator has another idea: Allow some 1,500 graduates of medicine who had partially taken the board exams for physicians to practice medicine and be registered as doctors.

Sen. Francis Tolentino said Italy, where the number of fatalities from COVID-19 had already exceeded that of China, recently waived the licensure examination for 10,000 graduates of medicine and allowed them to practice.

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The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) said the “severe understaffing” of nurses was now further aggravated by the need for some of them to go on quarantine due to their exposure to COVID-19 patients.

Unemployed nurses

“Scarcity of nurses in hospitals and public health facilities must be augmented not by volunteers but by registered nurses whose health and safety are protected with security of tenure and provision of complete, adequate personal protective equipment,” said Maristela Abenojar, FNU president.

Abenojar recommended that the government hire at least 42,000 nurses who would be deployed not only to hospitals but also to every barangay health center.

The massive hiring would cost P5.5 billion over three months, an amount which, Abenojar said, the government could shoulder.

The DOH has called on doctors and nurses to do volunteer work at three hospitals dedicated to the treatment and manage­ment of COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the agency also needed volunteers who would do contact tracing of those who might have been exposed to the virus.

“We can only give a daily allowance because of the long hiring process,” Vergeire said. To date, some 1,300 volunteers have responded to the DOH call.

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Medical Act of 1959

Tolentino said the Professional Regulation Commission could waive the completion of the licensure exams for graduates of medicine so they could immediately work in public hospitals. A total of 1,524 graduates of medicine took the board exams on March 8 and 9.

The senator cited the Medical Act of 1959, which states that certificates of registration during epidemics or national emergencies could be waived for medical students who completed the first four years of medical course.

The office of Vice President Leni Robredo, meanwhile, has opened a free dormitory in Quezon City for front-line workers who find difficulty traveling to their hospitals.

Health personnel no longer need to apply for an accreditation pass to officially exempt them from the travel restrictions. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said doctors, nurses and other health workers should only present their professional IDs at checkpoints.

—With reports from Jhesset O. Enano and Julie M. Aurelio

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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