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Bill on ending shortage of doctors okayed

THE House of Representatives has ratified the Doktor Para sa Bayan Act.

Two principal authors, chairman of the House committee on health Rep. Angelina Tan and Deputy Speaker Bro. Eddie Villanueva expressed gratitude for the swift action of the House headed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.

The bill provides medical scholarships and a return service program for those who want to become doctors.

According to Tan, the measure seeks to address the shortage of doctors in the count.

“The medical scholarship and return service program for deserving students has now become even more important in the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic. I do not doubt that the enactment of this measure is one of the enormously significant reforms which time has come,” Tan said.

Tan, who recently reclaimed the leadership of the health panel after being unceremoniously and inexplicably stripped of her committee chairmanship amid the speakership squabble, underscored the need to enact the measure into law not only as a complementary measure to the Universal Health Care Act but as a way of honoring the sacrifices of many frontliner doctors whose precious lives had been claimed by the current war against the pandemic.

In response to the current COVID-19 crisis, Tan introduced an amendment in the final version of the approved bill making service in public health office or government hospital in times of pandemic or public health emergency as one of the conditions for the medical scholarship.

She said that this important health legislation stems from her constant engagement in numerous medical missions that started even before her foray into politics.

“The bill, which is one of the early legislations that I crafted during my first term, is among my priority legislative measures and is my personal response to what I have seen as an enormously urgent need of the masses of our people for medical services, especially those living in the remote areas. The medical scholarship and return service program is the best possible solution in addressing the need of the marginalized Filipinos for the provision of professional healthcare services in the country”, Tan said.

The “Doktor Para sa Bayan Act” stands on the twin strategies of providing free medical education and mandatory rendering of professional medical services as a form of co-payment for medical scholarship. This proposal does not only intend to answer the dearth of doctors in the country but, more importantly, address the need of the poor and communities for urgent medical attention.

The bill provides institutional mechanism for the envisioned sustained human resource development for the Philippine public health care system as it seeks to provide the financial and other educational resource support mechanisms for the pursuit of studies in the field of medicine by deserving and qualified students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) or private higher education institutions (PHEIs) in regions where there are no SUCs.

For his part, Villanueva said this measure is surely a landmark legislation because it will greatly improve the state of public health workforce by increasing doctor-to-population ratio and meet international standards.

“It will also ensure the delivery of much-needed health services in all parts of the country by making available the presence of competent government physicians even in far-flung and remotest parts of our land,” Villanueva added.

The bill aims to provide for a national medical scholarship and return service (MSRS) program that aims to address the depleting number of Filipino medical doctors engaged in the public health sector. It will provide scholarship grants to eligible and deserving students who want to pursue and finish a degree in Doctor of Medicine in public or private higher education institutions.

Scholars will receive a range of assistance including free tuition and school fees, allowance for other needs such as books, clothing, dormitory, internship and medical board review, and other education-related miscellaneous subsistence or living allowances. The measure also mandates that qualified applicants from municipalities without government physicians shall be prioritized to ensure the assignment of at least one doctor for every municipality in the country.

Further, the bill states that every scholar, upon getting the license to practice medical profession, will be integrated into the public health and medical service system. Within 6-7 years from the time of passing the licensure exam, the scholar shall serve in a government public health office, hospital or facility in his/her hometown, province or any underserved town closest to him/her for at least one year for every scholarship year availed of. Any scholar who fails or refuses to comply with the mandatory return service will be sanctioned and made to pay twice the cost of the scholarship, including other benefits and expenses incurred in relation to the program.

It is envisioned that a scholar shall undergo higher post-graduate internship in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) or in private higher education institutions (PHEIs) in regions where there are no SUCs offering a medical course.