‘Anti-people’ | Health workers slam DOH secretary on planned firing of 7,000 nurses

BULATLAT FILE PHOTO. Health groups protesting against Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial for implementing same old neoliberal policies in the health sector in Mendiola on Oct. 7. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/ BULATLAT)
BULATLAT FILE PHOTO. Health groups protesting against Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial for implementing same old neoliberal policies in the health sector in Mendiola on Oct. 7. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/ BULATLAT)

Instead of providing more personnel to the villages, Health Secretary Ubial’s plan is to retrench health workers.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat

MANILA – Health workers trooped to the Department of Health (DOH) central office on Monday, Nov. 21 to condemn the planned retrenchment next year of 6,970 nurses under the Nurses Deployment Program.

Led by the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), protesters denounced Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial for continuing an “anti-people and pro-business policy,” as she rationalized in a statement that nurses under the program will not “lose their job,” because they will still be hired, but on a contractual basis.

“The proposed 2017 budget for the program raised their salaries and therefore, after adjustments, resulted in fewer hires,” she said in the statement. There are currently 15,727 nurses regularly employed under the said program, but the proposed budget for next year is only for 9,349.

The Nurse Deployment Program or NDP, a Department of Health (DOH) project, began in 2014 and was aimed at improving local health systems to support the attainment of the country’s Universal Health Care or “Kalusugang Pangkalahatan.” It was also aimed at providing employment opportunities to the growing number of unemployed nurses in the country.

The AHW strongly opposed the move of the DOH to convert the regularly employed nurses, under the NDP, to contractuals. Robert Mendoza, AHW national president, asserted that the government should fill in all the vacancies in the plantilla positions for regular employment.

Data from the DOH showed up to 22,905 unfilled plantilla positions in the health sector alone. In a critique of the 2017 DOH budget, AHW warned that inadequate funds will result in a nurse to patient ratio of one is to 60 to 80, while the nurse to population ratio will be one is to 40,000.

This also contradicts the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers, which prohibits the understaffing or overloading of public health workers, Mendoza said.

“The ratio of health staff to patient load shall be such as to reasonably effect a sustained delivery of quality health care at all times, without overworking the public health workers and over extending his/her duty and service,” the Magna Carta read.

The DOH also reduced the budget for the Doctors to the Barrios Program, bringing down the number of doctors from the current 946, to 435 in 2017. DOH-paid dentists will also be reduced from 324 to 243 next year.

Mendoza said the DOH is duty-bound to protect and promote the people’s health, but Health Secretary Ubial is doing the opposite. He said the downsizing of government-employed health professionals would result to “more unhealthy Filipinos.”

“At present, there are still Filipinos who are still not being reached by the government’s social services – how much more when health professionals like doctors will be reduced?” Mendoza told Bulatlat in an interview.

He slammed Secretary Ubial who served in the public health sector for many years but still “does not see the need to serve the people from the towns and barangays (villages).”

“Seven out of 10 patients die without medical attention because of the poverty, and thousands of babies and pregnant mothers still die from preventable diseases and complications. Instead of providing more personnel to the barangays, Secretary Ubial’s plan is to retrench health workers. This is an anti-poor and anti-health worker policy,” said Mendoza.

AHW secretary general Benjamin Santos said health professionals play a vital role in the operations of health services. He said these health professionals deserve to have job security, not dismissal in exchange for higher salaries. Being hired on a contractual basis would mean no security of tenure and fewer benefits for health workers. (Read also: ‘Permanent contractuals’ in government increasing)

Corporatization to worsen further the poor’s access to health services

To make things worse, said Mendoza, the DOH will continue plans to corporatize government hospitals that will further aggravate the poor’s inability to access free health services. The Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital’s transfer to Quezon City from Manila would still push through. Two years from now, there is also a looming transfer of the National Center for Mental Health from Mandaluyong City to Trece Martires in Cavite.

Mendoza said all these moves of the DOH “abandon people’s right to health in favor of big business.

“We call on Health Secretary Ubial to shape up. If you can’t be a pro-people, pro-health worker and implement a free, affordable and comprehensive health care system then you’d better step down from your post,” said Mendoza. ()

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