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Should Europe pay Manila for luring away Filipino nurses? – DW – 08/10/2023

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Jimmy Carpon Jr, a Philippines-born nurse who has worked for almost a decade in Germany, last weekend won an award for being Lower Saxony’s most popular care professional.

“I am very humbled,” he told DW after his award ceremony which was attended by top state officials. He noted that “the recognition is not only for me but for all the nurses, especially to our international nurses, who came to Germany and wanted to stay and live.”

Carpon might win a similar award on the national level, with the decision to be announced later this year.

And he is just one of an estimated 6,000 Filipino nurses working in the German health care industry, according to the German embassy in Manila. Like many others, he intends to stay in Germany for the rest of his life.

“I am now a German citizen but still Filipino by heart,” he said.

UK has more Filipino nurses than any EU country

According to media reports, Germany needs to find more than 2,000 new health care workers every year due to its aging population.

The German Bundestag recently passed a bill that makes it easier for skilled migrants to find jobs in Germany. This has opened up even more opportunities for Filipino nurses and other qualified workers.

Why is there a shortage of care workers in Germany?

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Jerome Babate, executive director of the Filipino Nursing Diaspora Network, reckons there are at least 35,000 Filipino nurses in Europe. Nearly 80% of them are in the UK, which is no longer an EU member. Nearly all of them, he added, intend to stay long term.

But Germany and Austria are also believed to be among the top 5 destinations in the world for Filipino nurses.

This is already causing problems back home.

Nursing students lured by job offers from abroad

In January, Germany’s ambassador was forced to respond to criticism that European countries are “pirating” not just Filipino nurses but also nursing students.

Vilma Garcia, the head of the employees’ union at De La Salle University Medical Center, had accused European countries of overshadowing Filipino hospitals and clinics with well-paid job offers.

“Foreign countries are giving very attractive packages to our 2nd year nursing students so that they can continue their studies in their country and they will provide everything — tuition and lodging,” she said in an interview with local media.

“Then, when they are already practicing, they can bring their family with them. That’s a big offer and we cannot equal that.”

Days later, Anke Reiffenstuel, the German ambassador at the time, told CNN Philippines that the German government only works “with other countries and recruit from other countries when we will not contribute to a country’s brain drain.”

Shortage of health care workers even at top hospitals

A diplomatic source also told DW that Germany has a policy of not exacerbating another country’s brain drain. The Philippines, according to the diplomat, already trains more nurses and other health care workers than it needs locally.

Germany goes on a charm offensive to draw Brazil’s nurses

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And yet, the cracks in the Philippines’ health care system keep growing. The issue had spiked when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country and many of them left the Philippines for better wages and better working hours abroad. 

Filipino Nurses United, a national labor association, decried a “crisis in nursing” last month.

“Nurses are so overworked and exhausted, working more than 8 hours per shift, extending to 2-4 which are unpaid,” they claim.

According to the advocacy group, even the prestigious Philippine General Hospital in Manilla is facing a shortage of between 400 and 600 nurses.

The Philippines’ Department of Health estimated in 2021 that 316,000 licensed Filipino nurses, or 51% of the total number of qualified staff, had migrated overseas.

In June, because of staff shortages at government-run hospitals, the Department of Health announced plans to give temporary licenses to nursing graduates who have not yet passed the board exams. Regulators pointed out that was illegal, so the Health Ministry is now waiting for parliament to amend legislation.

And regardless of the alleged surplus of health care workers, the government estimated last year that there was a shortage of 106,000 nurses in the country’s facilities and hospitals.

“The so-called brain drain in the country needs to be addressed by the government, because we need our health care workers to stay here in the country to help our health care system,” the Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergere said.

Push for EU countries to fund nursing schools

The government is currently debating offering better wages or short-term changes to who can practice.

But a long-term solution must involve more international financial support for the Philippine health care education system, analysts say.

“It would be advisable for European states to prioritize their foreign aid policy and invest more in Philippine health education services,” said Babate of the Filipino Nursing Diaspora Network.

“This investment would benefit both the source country and the global health care system,” he added.

Ukrainian nurses in German hospitals

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The Department of Migrant Workers has mooted a program whereby countries that want to hire Filipino nurses must contribute to a fund that would give scholarships to trainee nurses in the Philippines.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople has not fully fleshed out that idea but said last month that it might be “semi-voluntary” and could be included as a condition in bilateral labor agreements with other countries.

“We want it to be a progressive kind of fund wherein it’s like, let their social conscience dictate,” she recently told local media.

Brussels and Manila growing closer

Luc Veron, the EU ambassador to the Philippines, wouldn’t comment and suggested this is an issue for member states.

But the timing might prove auspicious. The EU and the Philippines are currently negotiating a free trade agreement and the talks were buoyed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visiting Manila and meeting President Ferdinand Marcos Jr last week.

With ties between Brussels and Manila on the upswing, it is likely that more EU money would find its way to the country, even if no formal agreement on nurses is reached. A European diplomatic source pointed out that several European countries, including Germany, already provide funding and assistance to Philippine healthcare educational services, and are willing to do more to help.

Philippines eyes stronger economic cooperation with Germany

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Edited by: Darko Janjevic

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