Herbosa’s proposal to tap unlicensed nursing grads needs further study, 3 senators say
MANILA, Philippines — There is a need to further study the proposal of Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa to employ unlicensed nursing graduates in government hospitals, said Senators Risa Hontiveros, Nancy Binay, and Christopher Go.
The three lawmakers made the remark on Tuesday after Herbosa broached the idea of tapping around half of those who failed the board exam, with scores ranging from 70 to 74 percent, to address the exodus of healthcare workers.
Go, chair of the Senate health committee, agreed with the recommendation to give temporary licenses to select nursing graduates who had not “technically” passed the board exam.
“But this should be thoroughly studied because lives are at stake. For me, the tasks to be given to them should be according to their level of skills and knowledge — and these are not on the same level as those given to actual licensed nurses,” Go said in Filipino in a statement.
Go called on the DOH to review the proposal, noting that there are existing laws “meant to uphold professional standards and protect the lives, safety, and well-being of our people.”
Herbosa’s proposal, said Go, is “a viable temporary solution to meet the country’s health needs.”
But, he said, the goal of the government for the long run should be to continue stepping up medical education in the country so it can ensure a sufficient number of qualified healthcare professionals.
Hontiveros, the vice chairperson of the Go-led panel, noted that, in other countries, unlicensed nursing graduates were also getting hospital roles, albeit not as registered nurses.
But she said the concerns raised by the Filipino people, especially patients, should not be brushed aside, noting that the country was also still recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.
“It would be good to study this because we may learn of the best practices in other countries. But we should not just ignore the very valid concerns of our patients,” Hontiverso, speaking in Filipino, told reporters in an online interview.
Hontiveros pressed on the need to balance the positions of various sectors to arrive at a proper and reasonable solution to the diminishing supply of healthcare workers in the Philippines.
She also said Herbosa’s proposal would be among the issues she will raise once the newly-designated Health Secretary faces the powerful Commission on Appointments for his confirmation hearing.
Binay, meanwhile, urged the government to hire fresh nursing graduates and those who had just finished taking the board exam.
This, she said, is to help fill the shortfall of medical frontliners and also provide them relievers when they “lack sleep and are over-fatigued.”
She likewise echoed the need to conduct deep and thorough consultations on Herbosa’s proposal with stakeholders from the health sector and other allied sectors in the medical field.
“Before the Department of Health taps unlicensed or board-eligible nurses as a temporary solution to address the shortage, it needs to be meticulously studied,” Binay told reporters in a message.
The lawmaker also urged the DOH first to provide a clear and concrete plan to alleviate the woes of healthcare workers.
Binay argued that the most practical way to solve the mass exit of healthcare workers is to provide them with:
- a certain level of care, respect, and compassion to our overworked nurses currently serving our public hospitals
- reviewed and amended offers for better-paying contracts
- better benefits, and rationalized workloads
“They are the backbone of the healthcare system. It is only fair to protect our essential workforce and reasonably compensate them. Why don’t we just allot the budget given to hire underboard nurses to the nurses themselves?” she said.
The Senate, according to Binay, can extend help to the DOH as it fixes its system, fills the gaps, and improves the competitiveness of healthcare workers’ salaries.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gave Herbosa the top post in the DOH almost a year after his administration took office.
Although several agencies and lawmakers welcomed Herbosa’s appointment, the Alliance of Health Workers “strongly opposed” his designation and called it “a big insult to health workers and indigent patients who rely on free and quality health services in public hospitals and other health facilities.”
The group recalled Herbosa’s move to privatize government hospitals during his tenure as DOH Undersecretary from 2010 to 2015.