Three legislators led by Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin G. Romualdez have proposed the creation of a Medical Reserve Corps for deployment in case of health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal of Romualdez, and Representatives Yedda Marie Romualdez and Jude Acidre, both of party-list group Tingog, is contained in House Bill (HB) 2 filed on Friday.
The three are among the early bill filers in the House of Representatives in the 19th Congress.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inability of the country’s health care system to cope with the surge of patients needing medical care due to lack of medically-trained personnel,” according to the measure’s explanatory note.
Citing the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO), said there were six medical doctors per 10,000 Filipinos in 2017, a ratio lower than the WHO-recommended 10 physicians per 10,000 population.
“Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, Singapore has 23 doctors per 100,000. Vietnam, Thailand, and impoverished Timor Leste each have eight doctors per 100,000 people. In developed countries such as Italy and the United States, the doctor-population ratio is 40 and 26 per 10,000 population, respectively,” the note stated.
It said that at present, the country has a shortage of 290,000 health workers, which is aggravated by an annual migration of 13,000 health care professionals.
“Against this backdrop, this bill aims to enhance the capacity of our country to produce and call on the needed manpower and expand its human health resources in times of disasters and public health emergencies of both national and local scale through the mobilization of a medical reserve force specifically trained to supplement the existing human health resources to ease the burden in our healthcare system,” the explanatory note said.
It stressed that the primary mission of the proposed Medical Reserve Corps is to support the public health system in times of health emergencies.
The reserve group would consist of licensed physicians, including those who have retired and those who are no longer practicing in the hospital setting, medical students who have completed their first four years of the medical course, graduates of medicine, and registered nurses.
The proposed Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) would be under the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health (DoH).
It would be given compulsory basic training and continuing training on responding to different national and local health emergency scenarios.
The bill provides that the MRC “shall be organized, trained, developed, and maintained to ensure its readiness to immediately respond to the call to service.”
It mandates the DoH to maintain a registry of all medical reservists, including their addresses, contact numbers, and similar information, and to issue MRC members identification cards.
The reserve corps may be mobilized to conduct contact tracing and monitor suspected cases during disease outbreaks, help ensure quarantine measures, and provide logistics and manpower support for large-scale disaster and health emergency operations.
The bill provides for the establishment of mobilization centers in every province, where medical reservists can register for duty.
The President, upon recommendation of the DoH, may mobilize the MRC to complement the military’s medical corps “in case of a declaration of a state of war, state of lawless violence or state of calamity.”
Failure to respond to any deployment directive or request without justifiable reason would result in the errant MRC member being required to reimburse the government for all expenses related to his recruitment, training, and compensation.
A reservist who is asked to render service would be entitled to “receive all the pay and allowances, medical care, hospitalization, other privileges, and benefits during the period of mobilization as prescribed by law or regulation.”
“They shall also continue to receive all pay, allowances, and other privileges and benefits from their regular employment during the mobilization period,” according to the bill.
The bill further provides that “no MRC member shall be held liable for the death of or injury to any person or for the loss of, or damage to, property of any person, where such death, injury, loss, or damage was proximately caused by the circumstances of an actual public health emergency or its subsequent conditions, or the circumstances of the formal exercise or training if such formal exercise or training simulates conditions of an actual emergency.”
It mandates the Insurance Commission “to develop public health emergency-specific malpractice insurance policy or modify existing policies that would protect MRC professionals’ from any legal liability…to allow them to respond in good faith during public health emergencies.”