- Many private and government hospitals report critical staff crunch.
- In the face of medical workers’ exodus, country is unable to stem health workers’ migration.
- The Asian country is floating the idea of some form of “compensation” from high-income countries poaching Filipino medical staff.
- Proposal to raise local wages by $3/day faces tough test in legislative chambers.
Manila: Mary Jane Garcia, 35, is a registered nurse in the Philippines, having passed the tough nursing board exams in the country when she was 23.
She also hurdled a test for professional nurses in the UAE and worked there for five years until 2018. After she got married, Mary Jane (named changed) quit her job to attend to her two children, and became a full time mum.
She hadn’t been back to work ever since. Her neighbour Angela, 29, also a registered nurse, has moved to Germany, after working for six years in another Gulf country.
An administrator for a 100-bed private hospital told Gulf News they lose an average of two nurses per month, including 6 in the emergency section alone in the last six months. "After they pass the nursing board exams, they would stay two or three years before they jump ship, usually to a foreign destination. There's nothing you can do, it's their right to earn more."
Many Filipino nurses, like Mary Jane have simply retired early or opted out of the job market.
While the country’s medical schools do continue to produce nurses, the shortage within the Philippines is worsening. Given the nurses' exodus, and the active recruitment by higher-income countries, there’s no immediate relief in sight.
‘Bleeding’: Shortage of 350,000 medical workers
The Asian country now faces a shortage of up to 350,000 medical workers, included nurses, according to a senior health official, while public hospital wards overflow with patients, and medical workers are few and far between.
Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire, officer-in-charge of the Department of Health (DOH) told local media: “We would like to stop the bleeding as soon as we can.”
In 2022, health officials reported the shortage of 106,000 positions, citing posts open then for medical-related jobs in public and private hospitals nationwide.
It’s not clear how to the new number — 350,000 — was arrived at, though many local hospitals do report staff crunch, mostly due to their highly-trained staff leaving for greener pastures.
History of migration
Since the 1960s, more than 150,000 Filipino nurses have migrated to the US. In 2019, one out of 20 registered nurses in the US was trained in the Philippines.
Moreover, it is reported at 18,000 nurses trained in the Philippines are working in the UK’s National Health Service.
Now, the Philippines seeks some form of compensation from high-income countries recruiting registered nurses and other medical workers, but have found no workable solution so far.
Dr Vergeire asked: “Why is it that the higher-income countries are actively recruiting?" "The countries getting our nurses should also be (in) for some form of exchange, so there would be something for our country."
How that "something" may be put in place remains unclear, though some form of subsidy for medical training institutes may be workable.
The Philippines has traditionally trained more nurses than it needs, knowing they will work internationally and send money back home to support their families.
However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, government health officials say an estimated 40 per cent of all Filipino nurses have left the country — or retired.
As recruitment delegations come knocking, government representatives, administrators, and nursing advocates in the Philippines look for ways to sustain their own healthcare system amid the staff exodus.
Dr Vergeire says she wants countries to do more to ensure their healthcare system is sustainable when recruiters come.
With a promise of a higher pay and better life for nurses and their families, richer countries, especialy those with ageing populations, are competing to attract nurses from the Philippines.
Delegations from countries including Canada, the UK, US, German and Japan — and many European countries — are actively recruiting in the Philippines.
Between December 2022 and February 2023, headhunters from the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Manitona visited the Philippines — conducting interview and making about 1,000 job offers for registered nurses, care assistants and medical lab assistants.
Recently, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has ordered the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) to address the mass exodus of Filipino nurses.
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has doubled down on his stance that Filipino workers, nurses included, are leaving the country due to insufficient wages.
“Small private hospitals here pay nurses as low as Php15,000 to Php20,000 a month,” Zubiri told local media . “And they are likely overworked, looking after more than their fair share of patients as more and more of their colleagues leave for better pastures abroad.”
“Who can blame them for leaving? Overseas, they earn somewhere around Php150,000 ($3,000) to Php200,000 ($4,000) a month. Our salaries and benefits offer no competition.”
“If we want nurses to stay in the country, we need to increase their salaries. That’s really the long and short of the diaspora problem that we’re having,” Zubiri added.
“I have no doubt that our nurses want to stay here. They want to be with their families, and they want to help our people. But they need to make a decent living as well, and they need to be paid in wages and benefits that are commensurate to the work that they render. If they don’t get this, then they have no other choice but to leave.”
$3 daily wage increase sought
On March 14, Senator Zubiri has sought a Php150 ($3) daily wage hike for all workers in the private sector through legislation.
“A decent life costs a decent wage. If workers are putting in hours and hours of labor, day after day, and yet are still unable to afford their rent, bills, and basic necessities, then there is a problem,” Zubiri said in a statement on Tuesday after filing Senate Bill No. 2002.
“In the Senate, we addressed the collective bargaining of our employees’ union for increased benefits, in accordance with the rising costs of commodities. And now, with this bill, I hope to answer similar calls from workers across the country, with an across-the-board wage hike,” he added.