By MARLENE H. ELMENZO
MAKATI CITY--HAVING a collective voice may save the jobs of Filipino nurses threatened to be sucked into the fiscal hole of the United Kingdom’s public health system, a health management expert recommends.
Filipino nurses who wish to stay longer in UK should make the NHS (National Health Service Trusts in the UK) realize their impact on that country’s health sector, Dr. Eufemia Yap of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business told the OFW Journalism Consortium.
“They should address this with a collective voice,” the school’s health unit director said. “They need to tell the NHS: ‘Hey, we are important players here.’”
Yap was responding to questions on what Filipinos could do a month after UK Health Minister Lord Warner of Brockley in July announced the removal of nursing from the “national shortage occupation list”.
With this new policy, job openings for nurses will first be advertised to British nationals and Europeans. Foreigners would only be considered for recruitment if there would be no qualified candidates from the European workforce.
The same rule applies for foreigners currently employed under work permits: they would be given the last priority for hiring.
“Taking nursing off the shortage list does not stop employers undertaking international recruitment, it only means that they have to demonstrate that they cannot fill a post with a UK or EEA [European Economic Area] applicant first,” a July 3, 2006 statement from the health department said.
“If employers are unable to fill a particular nursing post following advertisement, they may then apply to the Home Office for a work permit,” it added.
Currently the largest health care services system in Europe, the NHS is subdivided into smaller organizations called Trusts. Apart from overseeing hospital operations in every county or province in the UK, an NHS Trust also manages recruitment of doctors, nurses, health workers and non-medical staff.
In this system works some 40,000 Filipino nurses, half of who have no residence visa and would have to leave the UK upon expiration of their work permits, as the new policy mandates.
According to the policy, posts held by these foreign workers would be offered first to locals.
ACCORDING to Yap, in this situation, it is best for nurses to rely upon themselves because the Philippine government, which remains divided on the issue of health worker migration, could only do so much.
On the one hand, she said, is the Department of Health, which makes do with the limited healthcare workforce in the country. On the other is the Department of Labor and Employment, which continuously manages the export of the country’s best and brightest.
Filipino nurses, Yap said, also need to solve their problem by making themselves more competitive.
“They should challenge themselves and reshape themselves as nursing professionals,” she said. “They can do this by continuing their professional education and taking in leadership roles.”
Ateneo, to note, has the only business school that offers hospital management degree courses to health sector professionals.
“Packaging themselves well” will also help nurses to demand for better opportunities should they decide to settle in the Philippines, Yap said.
Nurses who really don’t want to return to the country, however, must start seeking other opportunities in the Middle East or in the US, and consider possible “trade-offs”, she added.
“They may be employed in other countries [even though] the work condition is not as good as that in UK’s.”
Nurses like Riza Franco who works in Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, Scotland, are bracing for an extreme scenario: the narrowing of the market for foreign health workers.
“There’re a lot of opportunities,” she said. “Australia alone is offering immigrant visa. It offers better compensation packages.”
Still, Franco, 31, says she’s not that worried since she has an “indefinite leave to remain” (permanent residence) visa.
Except for the right to vote, the visa entitles Franco to the rights enjoyed by the British.
“I am already a resident here so I am not under a contract anymore. I can work anywhere and as long as I want to.”