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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

No law to allow hiring of unlicensed nursing graduates—PRC

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No provision in the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 would legally allow the issuance of temporary licenses to nursing graduates who have yet to pass the Nursing Licensure Examination, the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) said Thursday.

PRC Commissioner Jose Cueto Jr. said Republic Act No. 9173 or the Philippine Nursing Act of 1991 needs to be amended first before Health Secretary Ted Herbosa could push through his plan to hire unlicensed nursing graduates in government hospitals, given they pass the board exam within a certain timeframe.

Herbosa also said on Thursday that the quality of healthcare in government hospitals will not decrease amid the Health Department’s plan to employ these unlicensed nursing graduates.

A party-list lawmaker backed Herbosa’s proposal to grant temporary licenses to nursing board takers who obtained scores between 70-74 percent.

Rep. Ron Salo of Kabayan party-list group acknowledged the pressing need for additional nursing personnel in government hospitals and believes this temporary measure will help address the current shortage while the government formulates a comprehensive long-term solution.

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But Cueto said if RA 9173’s provision is not changed, “the percentage lower than 75 cannot be considered.”

Earlier, Herbosa said he wants to hire nursing graduates who flunked the board exam but scored 70 to 74% on the test to help fill the 4,500 vacant plantilla positions for nurses in over 70 government hospitals across the country.

However, Section 21 of RA 9173 states that a special or temporary permit may only be issued to the following persons, subject to the approval of the Commission and upon payment of the prescribed fees:

• Licensed nurses from foreign countries/states whose services are either for a fee or free if they are internationally well-known specialists or outstanding experts in any branch or specialty of nursing;

• Licensed nurses from foreign countries/states on a medical mission whose services shall be free in a particular hospital, center, or clinic; and

• Licensed nurses from foreign countries/states employed by schools/colleges of nursing as exchange professors in a branch or specialty of nursing.

If the non-board passers are allowed to work in government hospitals, Cueto said they should be under the direct supervision of registered nurses.

“When they are under a registered nurse, they are not covered by the strict provision of the law because they are not into the independent practice of the profession. They will be supervised all the way. There are quality assurance mechanisms wherein they will be watched over and everything that they do must be informed to their supervisor,” he added.

According to Herbosa, temporary licensed nurses will have to render up to four-year return services to a government hospital after they pass their board exam before they are allowed to go abroad as his proposed temporary solution to address the exodus of nurses who are choosing better-paying jobs abroad. 

If this issue is not addressed, the Health Secretary said he sees the number of nurses working in the Philippines to be exhausted in three to five years from now.

The Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) and the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) both expressed disapproval of Herbosa’s proposal, saying the DOH should focus on hiring registered nurses instead given that around 120,000 of them are not currently working in the field of nursing.

To pass the Nursing Licensure Examination, an examinee must obtain a general average of at least 75% with a rating of not below 60% in any subject.

While endorsing the DOH proposal, Rep. Salo emphasized the importance of adopting certain conditions before granting temporary licenses to non-board passers.

He recommended that the DOH prioritize board passers in its hiring and only consider granting temporary licenses to non-board passers once there is an actual insufficient number of qualified board passers available.

“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 that they proceed to consider non-board passers,” he said.

Salo also said temporary license holders should still be required to take and pass the board exams within a specified timeframe.

“This condition ensures that they meet the standards of the nursing profession and maintain the quality of healthcare services,” he said.

As one of the primary authors of the Universal Health Care Law, Salo said he believes that this temporary solution will contribute to improving the accessibility of healthcare services. While acknowledging public concerns, he expresses confidence in the DOH’s ability to provide adequate supervision in ensuring the competent performance of temporary nurses.

“Although I understand the public’s reservations regarding this solution, I am confident of the DOH’s ability to exercise proper oversight and to develop the necessary guidelines for temporary nurses to carry out their duties effectively. Besides, nursing students are allowed to assist in providing medical services to patients,” he said.

“How much more can we not allow them to serve the medical needs of our people when they’re already graduates, although they missed the mark? Because indeed, we need to expand the healthcare workforce to serve and meet the medical needs of a larger population,” Salo stated.

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