Senators reject DOH chief’s plan to hire nursing board flunkers
MANILA, Philippines — Several senators on Tuesday rejected Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa’s plan to temporarily hire nursing board flunkers to address the dwindling number of nurses in government hospitals in the country.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said it would be better for the Department of Health (DOH) to institutionalize improvements in the salaries and benefits of state health workers instead of pursuing “Band-Aid solutions.”
“The proposal to allow non-board passers to practice nursing and grant them temporary licenses is a short-term solution,” Pimentel told reporters.
“The root causes of the shortage lie in the significant number of nurses leaving the country to seek higher-paying jobs abroad,” he noted.
Two weeks after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. tapped him to head the DOH, Herbosa on Monday disclosed that the agency was looking at the possibility of hiring nursing graduates who did not pass the mandated board exams.
On Tuesday, Herbosa reiterated that hiring unlicensed nursing graduates would just be a “temporary measure” to prevent the current understaffing from becoming a “crisis.”
“It’s a temporary solution. Once the nursing vacancies are filled up, we will stop it,” Herbosa said in a radio interview. “I can’t call it a crisis [now], but I’m seeing it will become a crisis if we don’t solve it.”
Under his plan, nursing graduates who failed to make the cut in the exams may practice their profession in an entry-level position, but in a limited capacity and under the supervision of licensed nurses on duty.
Herbosa said these nurses with a “temporary license” hired in a public hospital would get the same monthly pay rates of licensed nurses at Salary Grade 15, equivalent to P36,619, based on the fourth and final tranche of pay increases this year under the Salary Standardization Law.
On Monday, Herbosa said only those who got an exam score of between 70 and 74 percent would be qualified under his proposed program. He considered these scores as “almost passing” and so these examinees would be the ones who “will likely ace their second take.”
The Filipino Nurses United slammed the plan, saying Herbosa should first hire licensed nurses who remained unemployed due to unfavorable working conditions.
It also expressed concern that such a move might compromise the quality of care provided to patients.
Pimentel said the proposal might also impact on the quality of the country’s nursing board exams.
“We have to protect the integrity of our testing system,” he said. “If they passed, that means they are ready (to become nurses). If they failed, then they are not yet ready… (The passing grade of) 75 means 75, not 74.5.”
Senators Nancy Binay and JV Ejercito shared Pimentel’s observations, with the latter pointing out that encouraging Filipino health professionals to stay in the country was one of the goals of the Universal Health Care Act.
“We cannot offer a genuine health care if there’s a shortage in healthcare workers,” Ejercito said. “If we can only give a (salary) raise that would be decent enough to sustain their family, (Filipino health workers) would choose to stay here.”
Binay noted that the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for the country to take care of Filipino nurses, regarded as among the most sought-after health professionals in the world.
The senator said the DOH should carefully study Herbosa’s proposal and conduct consultations with groups of registered nurses and other medical professionals.
“The most practical thing to do is to prioritize the hiring of unemployed nurses,” Binay said.