DOH seeks P1.23B to fund risk allowance for more health workers
The Department of Health (DOH) is seeking an additional P1.23 billion from the government to be able to give more health workers their special risk allowance (SRA).
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in Malacañang on Wednesday that the amount would be allotted for the fifth batch of health workers. By law, private and public health workers directly catering to or in contact with COVID-19 patients are entitled to receive the allowance.
When they are off-duty, health workers stage protests against the long delay in the release of the SRA and other benefits, as well as discrepancies in the computation of the allowance.
At the Laging Handa press briefing on Thursday, Anti-Red Tape Authority Director General Jeremiah Belgica recommended that the SRA be granted to all health workers, and not just those caring directly for COVID-19 patients.
Belgica said there should be no distinction between health workers in and outside the COVID wards. “As long as you are a health worker and you are there in the hospital, you are at risk automatically,” he said.
P15.1B in benefits
Duque said the DOH had provided some P15.1 billion worth of benefits to health workers beginning September 2020.
He said the amount included P13 billion in SRA and active duty pay; P1 billion for meals, accommodation, transportation and life insurance; and P500 million for sickness and death benefits for those who contracted COVID-19.
He thanked the Department of Budget and Management for the swift release of the funds for the third and fourth batch of SRA payments, amounting to P888 million.
Belgica said making a distinction between health workers in and outside COVID wards added another procedural layer because officials would have to determine who were directly caring for COVID patients.
It would be better to give the SRA across the board to all health workers, he said. “All of them are at risk so they should be given this allowance.”
National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said he had met with medical and health groups to find out what they needed as the government continued to take steps to curb the pandemic.
At President Duterte’s meeting with Cabinet members, which was aired on Thursday, Galvez recounted his dialogues with leaders of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) and the Philippine College of Surgeons, as well as health workers’ groups and volunteers.
“I was glad, I was inspired that they are committed even though they are tired. And you can really feel the hardships they’ve gone through; you can see the dark eye circles due to lack of sleep and stress. We can see that our Filipino doctors are really dedicated, and they said they want to tell you that they won’t let go,” Galvez told Mr. Duterte.
He said that once the pandemic abated, the government should recognize the health workers as “heroes.”
“They are really holding on even if the hospitals are already overwhelmed,” he added.
Galvez said the PMA leaders expressed readiness to continue sending volunteer doctors to regional hospitals swamped with COVID-19 infections and to attend to crowded emergency rooms.
This has happened in the provinces of Cagayan, Pangasinan and Batangas and Butuan City, he said.
Galvez said he would bring the concerns raised by the health groups, as well as what he saw in his visits to various hospitals, to the attention of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
He said the top concerns included fast-tracking PhilHealth reimbursements to hospitals, ensuring an adequate supply of the COVID drug Tocilizumab in hospitals, and addressing the understaffing of doctors, nurses and other health workers.
Galvez said the health groups also requested: sufficient supply of oxygen cylinders; fast-tracking the approval of the establishment of oxygen production plants in hospitals; living quarters for health workers affected by granular lockdowns; additional refrigerated vans for cadavers; and implementation of the “quadrant” or sectoring concept of COVID-19 referral hospitals.
He said PhilHealth reimbursements were needed by the hospitals to buy more medicines and supplies and to provide additional benefits to health workers.
He also said he had initial talks with PhilHealth president Dante Gierran, who promised to speed up the reimbursements, prioritizing the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, East Avenue Medical Center and Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, and Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City.
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