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Doctors, medical students lambast DTTB reassignment to Cebu City

This move will further deprive rural communities of basic access to health care.


By Taj Lagulao

Members of the Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) on Tuesday lambasted the decision of the Department of Health (DOH) to transfer the doctors from remote areas of Regions VI and VII to unspecified private hospitals in Cebu City to assist with the Covid-19 response.

The order, issued on June 26, informed the rural health physicians of the reassignment, which would be done as Cebu’s healthcare system is overwhelmed by the pandemic. DTTBs from Region VI would report from June 30 to September 5, 2020, while those from Region VII will start to report from June 26 to July 30, 2020. Met with harsh criticism, the DOH Western Visayas cancelled the order until the issues were handled.

In a statement, concerned DTTB condemned the order, explaining that the involved doctors weren’t suitably informed, a proper consultation had not been done, detailed guidelines to protect doctors in the reassignment weren’t provided, and that the thrust of the DTTB program was contradicted by the reassignment.

“In the fight against this pandemic, the DTTBs believe that we are in a strategic position in this battle – in the frontlines in the communities,” they added. “If the goal of this reassignment is to address the overwhelmed capacity of private hospitals in Cebu City, the DTTBs are in a position to help decongest hospitals by providing primary care in our communities.”

In addition, they argued that the absence of proper communication violated the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers Sec 6. Transfer or Geographical Reassignment of Public health Workers: “(c) a public health worker shall NOT be transferred and or reassigned, except when made in the interest of public service, in which case, the employee concerned shall be informed of the reasons therefore in writing.”

They said that as the order involved the doctors and their respective barrios, it was only appropriate that a consultation be held with all stakeholders before the directive was given.

“The DTTBs and the local chief executives should have been represented in decision-making involving this temporary reassignment. Failing to do so makes such directives exploitative for doctors and inconsiderate for the communities that they serve,” they said. “There is complete disregard to the concerns of the doctors and the local chief executives.”

In the absence of the consultation, DTTB noted the lack of clear protocols to safeguard the doctors, with no information present on their safety, protection, lodging, insurance, and specific duties.

“The likelihood that the services rendered by public servants will be abused by private institutions increases because of the lack of clear guidelines for their protection. No proof of agreement between private institutions and the DOH were made available for discussion among all parties involved,” they explained.

Moreover, DTTB continued by pointing out that the program was created to address the lack of doctors in rural areas.

“Removing a DTTB from a municipality, albeit temporarily, will deprive healthcare to thousands of Filipinos in already marginalized communities,” they stated.

The DTTB program was created in 1993 by the DOH to address the lack of doctors in remote communities in the country. Currently, there are 215 doctors serving under the said program.

‘Counterproductive and inappropriate’

The Philippines Medical Students’ Association (PMSA) echoed the sentiment, showing support for the DTTBs who were involved in the reassignment.

In a unity statement with a hundred other organizations, they explained that people living in remote communities will be deprived of basic health services.

“Despite this indefinite suspension, our united stance still holds: this directive is counterproductive and an inappropriate solution to our staffing problems… It will inadvertently deny those communities in Regions VI and VII of their essential right to health,” PMSA said.

In response to DOH saying that the municipalities wouldn’t be left doctorless, PMSA argued that ordering DTTBs to transfer would still pose a significant impact to their communities.

“By recalling physicians from the far-flung communities that they serve, the DOH severs the people’s access to healthcare and leaves them in an even more vulnerable state,” they added. “This is especially worrying in the midst of a pandemic with emerging seasonal diseases such as dengue and leptospirosis, to name a few.”

As a solution, PMSA proposed the DOH implement a mass-hiring scheme of physicians to assist in the medical staff in Cebu, as well as providing stronger support and protection for doctors.

“The DTTB provides primary care in the communities as a way of preventing the collapse of the healthcare system particularly in the tertiary hospitals – the same problem that DOH addresses through their deployment order,” they said. [P]

Photo from The Filipino Times

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