Mass exodus of nurses as Delta surges

A mass exodus of fatigued health workers in the Philippines could be on the horizon as Delta cases surge and nurse wages remain some of the lowest in the region.

    Concern is brewing for a mass exodus of health workers in the nation worst-hit by Covid-19 in South East Asia, where nurses work around-the-clock for the lowest wages in the region.

    An estimated 40 per cent of nurses serving private hospitals in the Philippines resigned last year and that number is expected to rise as the country grapples with the Delta variant.

    Hospital Intensive Care Units are reaching peak capacity and cases numbers are mounting rapidly, with the average daily infections reaching a record 16,937 in the past week.

    The number signalled an increase of about 20 per cent compared to the week prior.

    As they have done for the past 18 months, Filipino doctors and nurses continue work furiously to save critically ill patients, but many complain their efforts are not matched by their pay.

    It’s easy to see why, with nurses being paid just $1,100 a month — a drop in the ocean compared to those in Singapore, where the pay is almost $6,500.

    An additional five per cent have resigned since the Delta outbreak began in April, according to the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines director Jose Rene de Grano.

    “Some transferred to government [hospitals] because they were offering much better salaries,” he told the ABC.

    Nurses were threatening to go on strike if they didn’t receive back payment of a promised additional $137 a month as a “special risk allowance” bonus.

    President of the Philippine Nurses Association Melbert Reyes echoed the pleas of his members, demanding their calls for “decent pay” be answered.

    “The salary and compensation of nurses in the Philippines is nothing compared to those in other countries, especially in the UK, the US, the Middle East,” he said, the ABC reported.

    Filipino president President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the health and budget ministries to pay health workers what they were owed within the next 10 days.

    “Pay them … use whatever money there is,” he requested of Health Minister Francisco Duque.

    With the Delta variant having been detected in 16 out of the Philippines’ 17 regions, vital health care workers are reportedly seeking positions abroad with better pay and conditions.

    Large numbers of workers have historically relocated to the United States and Saudi Arabia, making the Philippines the biggest exporter of nurses in the world.

    The trend hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic either, with so many health workers moving overseas last year that Manila implemented a ban.

    While the ban was later lifted, the country still limits the number of health workers allowed to flee to other countries.

    “We can’t stop nurses looking for better opportunities outside the country because they can’t find opportunities in the Philippines. Even in the pandemic, they’re hoping to get offers to work abroad,” Philippine Nurses Association president Melbert Reyes said.

    “We’re afraid the time will come that there will be no healthcare workers to take care of our own people if we allow them to leave.”

    About 15 per cent of the country has been fully vaccinated, with about 32 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine being administered.


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