New law sought to fix nurse shortage in PH
Instead of tapping unlicensed nurses to fill the vacancies in the health-care sector, as proposed by Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa, the government should instead prioritize the passage of a comprehensive nursing bill that would narrow the pay gap between private and public nurses.
“This [proposal of Herbosa] … should not be a priority and needs careful study first,” Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) president Melvin Miranda told the Inquirer. PNA is the accredited professional body of nurses, with a current membership of around 52,000.
Miranda, who is also dean of Manila Central University’s College of Nursing, said there were “two significant considerations” the government should focus on to address the nurse shortage in the country.
“One is the specific provision aligning the salary of our [public] nurses with salary grade 15 [with their counterparts] in the private sector,” he said. Another is improving nurses’ working conditions which has been a perennial problem in both private and public medical facilities. Under Department of Health (DOH) guidelines, the ideal nurse-to-patient ratio is 1:12 although global standards set it at 1:4.
To find a “concrete solution,” Miranda also pushed for a joint dialogue with concerned agencies such as the Department of Budget and Management, the Department of Labor and Employment, as well as the Department of the Interior and Local Government, whose involvement would be crucial in addressing the impact of devolution on the implementation of the Salary Standardization Law in some health facilities.
Under Herbosa’s plan, nursing graduates who failed the board exams would be given a “temporary license” but in a limited capacity, to be able to work at a government hospital under the supervision of board certified nurses.
He said that unlicensed nurses may get the same pay rate as licensed nurses in an entry-level post, which is Salary Grade15, or equivalent to P36,619 per month.
But Miranda said this was “definitely not fair,” pointing out that professional nurses would suffer under this setup due to their “wider scope of practice” while they would also be “accountable” for the actions of unlicensed nurses.
“Why not prioritize the plantilla positions for our new passers?” he said, noting that over 10,000 passed the nursing board exams in May. “They could be a source for the human resources for health,” he added, referring to the DOH deployment and training program.
Based on DOH data, there are more than 675,000 licensed nurses although only about 26 percent of them are currently working in the country.
Kabayan party list Rep. Ron Salo, meanwhile, said that while he supported Herbosa’s proposal, the government should require the unlicensed nurses it would hire to retake and pass the board exams within a certain period.
“It is crucial for the DOH to prioritize board passers in granting these temporary licenses. Only after ensuring that there are no qualified board passers available [should it] proceed to consider nonboard passers,” he added.
On the other hand, Bohol Rep. Kristine Alexie Tutor maintained that there was no legal basis allowing the DOH to issue temporary nurses licenses as she urged it to instead look for unemployed licensed nurses and hire them instead.