(PNA photo by John Rey Saavedra)

MANILA – President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. has expressed support for the proposal to offer a "ladderized" program for nurses.

This, after the proposed ladderized program was pitched during his meeting with members of the Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) at Malacañang Palace in Manila on Thursday.

Marcos and the PSAC discussed the challenges confronting the Philippine health sector, particularly the exodus of nurses and other health professionals.

Marcos said the proposal would help strengthen the country's health sector and address the supposed "brain drain," or the departure of professionals from the country for better pay or living conditions.

"I like the ladderized idea for the nurses because that's really becoming a problem – the brain drain that we are suffering," Marcos said during the meeting, as quoted by the Presidential News Desk (PND). "They are so good everybody wants them, and they are willing to pay for it, and we are not, or we're not able. So we have to come up with some strategies for that."

According to the PND release, it was Health officer-in-charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire who mentioned the ladderized program during Marcos' meeting with the PSAC.

Vergeire noted that the University of the Philippines-Manila and select local government units (LGUs) are already implementing the ladderized program.

"So this ladderized program, there is this counterpart with local government. So we now have a couple of local governments that we have piloted this with. But of course, this would be – eventually para makapag-produce tayo nang madami (this would eventually help us produce more),” Vergeire said.

Under the program, UP Manila offers a two-year scholarship for midwives who come back to the community to serve upon course completion. Once they gain experience, they return to UP Manila to study nursing for another two years.

PSAC Healthcare lead Paolo Maximo Borromeo also proposed to tap the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to help address the issues in the health sector, the PND said.

This, as Borromeo said TESDA is offering a six-month nursing aide course that produces graduates who could be deployed in hospitals after a few months.

"What the hospitals do is they train them further, another 30 days to do IG, to do phlebotomy, or 'yung (the) nasal – NGT. And it improves the ratio of beds that nurses [are] able to do in hospitals. Quick win like that is easy to do if you can encourage more nursing aides," Borromeo said.

Provide scholarships, better pay

Acknowledging the problems posed by brain drain in the health sector, Marcos also suggested offering scholarships to medical practitioners for them to avoid considering overseas employment for better opportunities.

Marcos said providing scholarships would help sway doctors, nurses, and medical practitioners to stay in the country.

Borromeo also suggested the institutionalization of nursing aides and nurse practitioners by amending Republic Act 9173 or the Philippine Nursing Act.

He said there should be provisions that would raise the salaries and provide benefits for nurses.

Currently, nurses employed in government hospitals get higher salaries than those working in the private sector.

The PSAC said the government may craft a policy mandating equal pay for nurses from the public and private sectors.

There are around 617,000 licensed nurses in the country, with 28 percent or 172,000 of them working in both public and private health facilities, according to the data from the Department of Health.

Fifty-one percent or 316,000 licensed nurses have already migrated, while 21 percent are working in other areas other than healthcare.

'Quick wins'

Other "quick wins" were also mentioned during the meeting, the PND release read.

These include the proposed development of a vaccine procurement plan for new coronavirus variants and monkeypox, the commissioning of a study on the feasibility of local vaccine manufacturing, and a third-party review of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the PND said.

Also included in the talks were the institutionalization of ladderized nurse categories with ascending skills sets, piloting telehealth in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA) and other LGU PPPs for capacity building, and revisiting the regulatory requirements for private sector participation in the Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The PND said the establishment of LGU Performance-Driven Incentive Plan, the commissioning of a study to review and fully digitalize the Food and Drug Administration, and the improvement of awareness of the general public on generic medicines were also discussed. (PNA)