The Department of Health and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases want the nursing licensure exams moved to June to augment the health workforce amid the coronavirus pandemic.
During an online briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH was already in talks with the Philippine Nursing Association and the Professional Regulation Commission to move the nursing exams from November to June this year.
“We and the IATF requested for the exams to be done in June, so that by July we would have fresh graduates and freshly licensed nurses who can join us in the pandemic response,” she said at an online briefing.
The DOH earlier said it had the funds to hire more health workers.
However, the number of applicants remains low.
Last month, over 100 health workers from other regions were deployed to Metro Manila as it grappled with a steep spike in COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions.
The surge in infections has forced the National Capital Region and neighboring provinces back into a stricter lockdown classification that expires on May 14.
In related developments, House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco suggested to the Department of Health and the Professional Regulation Commission to enable and tap unregistered nurses as complementary manpower amid the shortage of health workers in the country.
“Since the nursing board exam was also recently postponed, we can actually tap the supposed board exams and use them as health workers," Velasco told a radio interview.
According to Velasco, these unregistered nurses could work under the supervision of a registered nurse or doctor through a special arrangement with the PRC.
“They have been thoroughly prepared,” Velasco said, referring to expected takers of the nursing licensure exam. “They are resources that we can actually use to help fight the pandemic.”
The PRC has decided to postpone this year’s first batch of the nursing board exam scheduled on May 30 and 31 upon the request of the Philippine Nursing Association due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The exam was rescheduled to November 21 and 22 this year.
DOH data show that as of April 25, a total of 17,365 health workers have been infected with COVID-19, 195 of them are active cases. The health department said 88 health workers have died, while 17,082 have recovered during the same period.
The DOH said that the surge in COVID-19 cases among health workers corresponded with the overall surge in infections nationwide beginning March this year.
Meanwhile, Velasco assured the public that the government was doing all it could to quell the surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.
He nevertheless reminded everyone to do their part in minimizing the spread of the virus and to continue to observe minimum health standards even as cases have gone down from as high as 15,000 daily infections to more than 7,000 last Monday.
“I notice when I go around that there’s still a lot of people not following the protocols,” Velasco said. Meaning, at least the most basic, is to wear a face mask. At least that’s it — the most basic (that we should do)."
In other developments, fresh graduates from nursing who will pass the board exams can immediately augment the number of healthcare professionals in the country amid the ongoing pandemic after the Professional Regulation Commission re-scheduled the exam at an earlier date.
Senator Christopher Go, chairperson of the Senate health committee, lauded the decision of the PRC on the Nursing Licensure Examination.
The PRC announced that the May 2021 Nursing Licensure Exam schedule, which was previously rescheduled to November 2021, will now push through on July 3-4, 2021.
The NLE was initially moved to November 2021 due to the rise in COVID-19 cases which could jeopardize the safety of future nurses and the PRC staff who will conduct the examinations.
Meanwhile, as earlier appealed by Go, the National Task Force Recovery Cluster agreed to include PRC frontline personnel in the A4 priority group for vaccination.
“We can consider as essential workers PRC members who are conducting professional board exams," he said.
If they are protected due to vaccines, Go said they could be more effective so there would be no delay in the needs of our people in their profession.
In a letter addressed to the Senate Committee on Health chaired by Go, the PRC then requested assistance to have its frontliners, members of Professional Regulatory Boards, and other personnel of the agency to be included in the vaccination program.
He noted that they were constantly exposed to COVID-19 due to the nature of their work and in order to avoid any further delay in the conduct of professional board exams.