Shortage of nurses feared amid delays in pay, perks

The hazard pay and special risk allowance (SRA) for health workers from January to June 2021 are still being processed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Department of Health (DOH) said on Sunday.

HIGH RISK, DELAYED PAY. Several nurses prepare to swab a patient in this file photo. Medical workers iin government hospitals complain of delayed payment of  hazard pay and risk allowance despite the nature of their job as front liners.
"We are still asking the DBM to release the hazard pay and special risk allowance for January to June 2021. It is still being processed,” Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said over "Dobol B TV."

More than a year into the pandemic, health workers at the forefront in the battle against COVID-19, are lamenting their low and delayed pay, he said.

They have not received their hazard pay beginning January this year.

Health workers are already resigning from their jobs, which Vega fears can cause understaffing in hospitals.

Vega said they have opened 10,300 health worker positions all over the country to augment operations in health facilities in order to address the possible shortage problem.

Last week, the DOH assured the public that the government had enough funds to augment the health workforce amid a new surge in COVID-19 cases.

Earlier, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH had given hospitals enough funds to hire health workers directly.

Meanwhile, Senator Richard  Gordon is set to  file a measure that will legislate the just salary of nurses from entry-level to senior nurses with Malacañang’s reversal of a DBM circular on the adjusted salaries for Filipino nurses.

“We care for our nurses as they are vital to our healthcare system; they are at the forefront. We are glad that finally, they will get what they deserve,” said Gordon.

However, Gordon said. they wanted to make sure but “we want to make sure that Malacañang’s memo will not be easily amended or retracted.”

“So we will file a bill that will make that regulation a law. This is one significant way of protecting our nurses,” stressed Gordon.

“I always say that our nurses should be compensated fairly so that they would no longer go overseas to work," said Gordon.

The Philippines, he added, is a major source in exporting nurses.

In the United States alone, about 150,000 nurses are Filipinos.  

And Gordon said it was imperative that “we create policies that are beneficial to them and will make them choose to stay in our country because we want them to be with their families and we are also in need of healthcare workers especially now that we are facing a pandemic.”

Sen. Christopher Go said Malacanang memo could boost the morale of government nurses amid the ongoing pandemic by ensuring that they are properly compensated based on their skills and experience.

He lauded  President Rodrigo Duterte for signing a memo which raises the salary grade of government nurses in the Nurse II positions to SG-16 from SG-15 following an earlier adjustment made to upgrade the pay of entry-level nurses (Nurse I) from SG-11 to SG-15.

Go, chair of the Senate Committee on Health,  noted that the functions of the former Nurse Il position merited a higher qualification standard, skills and experience and, therefore, a higher salary grade as opposed to Nurse I.

In 2019, Go was one of those who pushed for and ensured enough funding was allocated for the implementation of a Supreme Court decision upholding Section 32 of the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 which increases the minimum salary grade of the Nurse I position to SG-15 eighteen years after a law providing such increase was enacted.

In July 2020, the DBM issued Budget Circular 2020-4 to implement the ruling as it provides for the upgrading of the SG allocation of the Nurse I position from SG-11 to SG-15.

However, as a result, those who are Nurse II at present and, as such, are already receiving SG-15, will find themselves with their salary unchanged and with their positions reclassified to Nurse I.

Given this, the DOH proposed to raise the SG of Nurse II to SG-16.

Go has earlier appealed to the national government to consider the adjustment, saying that the movement of nurses holding Nurse II is necessary to ensure their compensation is commensurate with their position.

While acknowledging budget as a legitimate concern, Go mentioned that the welfare of the nurses outweighed the identified budget constraint especially during the pandemic.

Moreover, Go filed Senate Bill 395, also known as the "Advanced Nursing Education Act of 2019", which seeks to protect and improve the nursing profession by instituting measures that will result in relevant nursing education, humane working conditions, better career prospects and a dignified existence for our nurses.

DBM Circular 2020-4, issued on July 17, 2020, raised the salary of entry-level nurses to SG 15 but also demoted the positions of Nurses II to VII to one rank lower.

The memorandum issued by Malacañang on June 1, 2021 reverted the circular and increased the salary of Nurse II from SG 15 to SG 16, while it retains the position titles of Nurse III to Nurse VII with their corresponding salary grades.

Topics: special risk allowance , Department of Health , Leopoldo Vega , COVID-19 , Maria Rosario Vergeire
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