Health workers from different hospitals under the Department of Health (DOH) converged on August 30, to condemn the big cut for direct services of public hospitals under the 2018 proposed budget.
In a press conference, members of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) budget of public hospitals was cut down by P1.5 billion. From this year’s P5.3-billion budget, the proposed 2018 budget was reduced to P3.74 billion.
The MOOE serves as the lifeblood of government hospitals as it is the main source of funding for the basic hospital needs of the patients such as medicines, IV fluids, reagents used for diagnostics, laboratory procedures and other hospital expenses essential to patient care, With the budget cut, patients will be forced to pay for their medicines and diagnostic procedures during confinement.
Hospitals suffer from big budget cuts
With the proposed budget cuts for 2018, special hospitals and institutes that will be greatly affected in Metro Manila alone are the following:
Research Institute for Tropical Medicine – P111 million from P256 million this year (56.6-percent cut);
Amang Rodriguez Medical Center – P44 million from P81 million (44.9-percent cut);
Quirino Memorial Medical Center – P80 million from P121 million (34.6-percent cut);
East Avenue Medical Center – P182 million from P234 million (22.1-percent cut);
National Children’s Hospital – P68 million from P73 million (6-percent cut);
J. Fabella Memorial Hospital – P89 million from P94 million (4.8-percent cut); and
San Lazaro Hospital – P180 million from P259 million (26.9-percent cut).
AHW noted that regional medical centers are also bound to suffer from the huge decreases in their budgets. Even Mai Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi City, which is currently under siege, saw its budget reduced by 52 percent to P31 million from P64 million.
Budget for maintenance and other operating expenses for government hospitals and facilities, which has remained low since the overall proposed budget for MOOE in the 2017 National Expenditure Program, was reduced by P1.5 billion ($29.54 million) from the 2016 budget.
According to AHW president Robert Mendoza, the budget decrease for government hospitals was supposed to be allocated for vaccines and facility enhancement programs, especially with 4.3 million indigent patients in need of vaccines and medicines amounting to P15 billion.
Mendoza added the cuts only go to DOH’s alleged lump sum budgets, a non-specific approach to budgeting, with health services not reaching enough citizens in need of proper health care.
“Hindi tinutugunan ang health services na dapat binibigay ng libre sa mamamayan [The government is not giving importance to health services that should be provided for free to people],” he said, describing the proposed budget as “deceptive and anti-poor.”
Overworked, understaffed, underpaid health workers
According to National Kidney and Transplant Institute Employees’ Association president Edwin Pacheco, job orders are increasing in hospitals that are government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), but thousands are still working under labor contractualization.
“Ang sinasahod ng mga contractual sa regular ay malayo; P15,000 monthly ang sinesweldo ng isang regular na nurse pero P700 a day lang kapag contractual, without benefits at 13th month pay pa [Contractual employees’ salary is far from regular employees. While a regular nurse earns around P15,000 a month, a contractual nurse is only paid P700 a day, without benefits or 13th month pay],” he said.
Pacheco added that nurses in GOCC hospitals, especially in the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, which is a huge public institute, are required to work 12 to 18 hours. But in its Out Patient Department, only one urologist can cater to 150 patients despite its 350 job orders.
‘Selective’ PhilHealth services
While the MOOE budget remains low, the highest budget alloted by the DOH goes to the PhilHealth Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the government-mandated health insurance program. However, AHW said the service does not reach all citizens in need.
From P53.2 billion in 2017, AHW reported DOH’s reported lump sum budget will increase by 7.3 percent for PhilHealth by 2018, which would amount to P57.1 billion.
According to Health Alliance for Democracy secretary general Joseph Carabeo, a medical doctor, despite this increase, the poor still lacks access to the health service, even if the program envisions universal care for everyone.
He added that indigenous peoples like lumads, in most cases, do not have the chance to be granted proper care at their nearest health center, and they even need to add a premium contribution for the services needed.
AHW noted the government is also planning to create a national security health corporation that will be a “superbody” of all GOCCs under the health sector. They said the plan can reduce the number of health centers in the country.
Mary Gleefer Jalea