By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

QUICK WINS. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (in white polo shirt) meets with the Private Sector Advisory Council – Healthcare Sector Group at Malacañan Palace in Manila on Thursday (Feb. 22, 2024). During the meeting, Marcos and the PSAC-HSG discussed the “quick wins” to address the nursing shortage in the country, as well as improving drug accessibility and strengthening PhilHealth. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office) 

MANILA – The Marcos administration has made significant strides in addressing the shortage of nurses in the country, Malacañang said Friday.

The government’s “quick wins” were enumerated during President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s meeting with the Private Sector Advisory Council – Healthcare Sector Group (PSAC-HSG) at Malacañan Palace in Manila on Thursday, Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Cheloy Garafil said in a statement.

Garafil said various collaborative public-private programs in the health care, overseas welfare, and education sectors have helped solve the nursing shortage.

“These include the Clinical Care Associates (CCA) program for underboard nursing graduates, Enhanced Master’s Nursing Program, and the bilateral labor agreements with other countries in the training and deployment of Filipino nurses,” she said.

During the meeting, PSAC-HSG Lead and Ayala Healthcare Holdings, Inc. president and chief executive officer Paolo Borromeo told Marcos that the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has allocated PHP20 million for board reviews of 1,000 CCAs for this year.

As of Feb. 20, about 304 CCAs have enrolled from both private and public hospitals, Borromeo said, adding that their recruitment would continue for the November 2024 nursing board examination.

The PSAC will also roll out the CCA program for the 2025 board examinations, he added.

“That’s an instant addition to our nursing population. If we are able to fill the seats that Chair Popoy (CHED chairperson J. Prospero de Vera III) was able to get, that’s a thousand CCAs but now, 300 pa lang (it’s just 300). A thousand CCAs is not a small number in a country where we graduate about 7,000 to 10,000 nurses a year,” Borromeo told Marcos, as quoted by the PCO.

“So, instantly we have a thousand just like that. So I characterized that as a big win and I want to commend Chair Popoy for that.”

About 300 CCAs have already been hired by various hospitals across the country.

Last year, Marcos witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the launch of the CCA Upskilling Program aimed at creating a pool of licensed nurses to address their shortage in the country.

The MOU was signed by the PSAC-HSG, CHED, Department of Health (DOH), and Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc. to facilitate employment for underboard nursing students.

Under the program, the underboard nursing students will become CHED-certified and work as CCAs in health care industries.

Borromeo said the Enhanced Master’s Nursing Program is also crucial in producing more nursing instructors in the country, noting that it would shorten the three-year Master’s Nursing Program by CHED to just one year to make those who graduate from the program eligible to teach.

Garafil said the PSAC is eyeing to roll out the master’s program starting Academic Year 2024-2025 in 16 higher education institutions.

Borromeo said bilateral labor agreements with other countries are also a “big win” for the country, including the pilot MOU with Austria, which was forged through the help of the Department of Migrant Workers and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Under the MOU, the Austrian government will provide scholarships and faculty support, as well as back the “adopt-a-school/hospital” scheme.

The PSAC expressed optimism that Marcos would support the MOU.

Other PSAC initiatives are the Underboard Certificate Programs, the Balik Nurse Campaign, and the National HRH Masterplan.

Garafil said discussions are ongoing between CHED and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for the Underboard Certificate Programs.

She added that PSAC intends to explore the pilot launch of the Balik Nurse Campaign in the Middle East but still has to define the program specifics.

Drug accessibility

The PSAC-HSG also discussed with Marcos three “focus items” in terms of drug accessibility, based on a statement posted on state-run Radio Television Malacañang’s (RTVM) official Facebook page.

These are local drug manufacturing, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiatives, and Local Drug Development and Innovation.

According to the statement, the PSAC-HSG tackled local drug manufacturers’ production of anti-TB and anti-HIV medicines and participation in national bids; the FDA’s progress on digitalization, policy enhancements and accreditation; and the need to invent and develop locally produced drugs and vaccines.

Strengthening PhilHealth

The PSAC-HSG also raised the need to strengthen the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) by focusing on “digitalization, reorganization and financial/actuarial.”

“In digitalization, a Joint Task Force between PhilHealth and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) will be created. On reorganization, there will be an increase in manpower while on the financial/actuarial aspects, there will be a significant increase in reimbursement rates and the repayment of payables to hospitals,” the statement posted on RTVM’s Facebook page read. (PNA)