The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released P1.04 billion for the payment for the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) of more than 55,000 eligible public and private health care workers who are directly catering to or are in contact with COVID-19 patients.
The DBM said the money will cover unpaid COVID-19 SRA claims of 55,211 health workers, who will receive a grant amounting to P5,000 for every month they serve during the state of national emergency.
“We understand and recognize the selflessness and immense sacrifice that our health workers continue to pour out throughout these turbulent times. This is a way of recognizing their sacrifices,” DBM Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman said.
Qualified health workers refer to medical, allied medical, and other personnel assigned in hospitals and health care facilities, and who are directly catering to or in contact with COVID-19 patients, persons under investigation (PUIs) or persons under monitoring (PUMs).
Funding for the SRA is covered by the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act as well as an administrative order.
Pangandaman said her department would coordinate closely with the Department of Health to make sure the health workers get the allowances and benefits they deserve.
To date, the total released allotment for SRA amounts to P11.857 billion.
DOH officer-in-charge and Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the department will need P140 billion to cover the mandatory COVID-19 benefits and allowances of health workers since the start of the pandemic.
This includes the arrears of P64 billion for the retroactive payment of Health Emergency Allowance in 2021 and 2022. Medical frontliners are entitled to HEA under Republic Act 11712.
Vergeire said the DOH will also need at least P76 billion to sustain the provision of COVID-19 benefits for the whole of 2023.
There are over 800,000 health workers in the country, she said.
Dozens of health workers staged a protest in front of DOH’s main office in Manila on Tuesday against their delayed benefits.
Vergeire said Monday night that given the lack of nurses and other health professionals, the DOH wants to coordinate with other government agencies in setting a cap on their overseas deployment.
During a Senate committee on finance hearing on the DOH’s 2023 budget, Senator Joel Villanueva asked for the basis of the 7,000 deployment cap for health workers, taking into account the shortage of 106,000 nurses in the country’s facilities and hospitals.
“First, it is not the Department of Health which provides this cap. It’s the Department of Labor and Employment,” Vergeire said.
Villanueva asked if the cap was set in coordination with the DOH, Vergeire responded by shaking her head.
“We would like to really work with other government agencies so that we can see or have this kind of rational direction in deploying our health care workers,” she said.
Villanueva said he was surprised that the DOH was not being consulted on the matter.
He said he would bring this up in budget hearings for the Department of Migrant Workers.
Last week, Vergeire said the country needed 106,000 more nurses to fully staff hospitals nationwide. The country is also in need of more doctors, pharmacists, radiologic technologists, medical technologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, midwives, and dentists.
She also said that the DOH planned to meet with DMW and the Department of Labor and Employment to discuss what incentives could be given to local health care workers to encourage them to stay and work in the country.
The Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), on the other hand, expressed hope on Monday that the government would increase the 7,000 deployment cap for health care workers who wish to work in better-paying jobs abroad.