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Philippines offers nurses to UK in return for Covid vaccines

Jon Sharman
·3-min read
Virus Outbreak New York Vaccine (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Virus Outbreak New York Vaccine (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Philippines has offered to allow thousands of nurses and other health workers to work in the UK and Germany if the European nations send it much-needed Covid-19 vaccines.

Manila, which is dealing with one of the highest coronavirus case-loads in Asia, currently limits the number of medical workers leaving the country to 5,000 per year, though has relaxed a total ban.

Alice Visperas, director of the labour ministry's international affairs bureau, said the Philippines was open to lifting the cap if Britain and Germany agreed to send vaccines, which the government would use to inoculate outbound workers and hundreds of thousands of Filipino repatriates.

A UK Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are hugely grateful to the 30,000 Filipinos in our NHS working tirelessly on the front line of the pandemic. We have no plans for the UK to agree a vaccine deal with the Philippines linked to further recruitment of nurses.

“Our priority is to ensure coronavirus vaccines are made available to the UK public first, but we also recognise that this virus will not be beaten until it is defeated in every country.

“We have confirmed that we will share any surplus vaccines in the future, for example, through the Covax international procurement pool.”

Britain’s NHS is in the grip of a staffing shortfall with MPs warning last September of an “emerging crisis” in nursing. There were tens of thousands of vacancies and a survey found one-third of nurses had considered leaving the profession within a year.

Meanwhile, coronavirus has left the community nursing sector facing a “rehabilitation disaster”. An overstretched workforce will have to help care for thousands of survivors with long-term symptoms, Labour warned this month.

Nurses are among the millions of Filipinos who work overseas, providing in excess of $30bn (£21.3bn) a year in remittances vital to the country's economy. "We are considering the request to lift the deployment cap, subject to agreement," Ms Visperas said.

In 2019, almost 17,000 Filipino nurses signed overseas work contracts, official data showed.

Although they have fought to lift the deployment ban to escape poor working conditions and low pay at home, the government’s exchange scheme has proven unpopular with some.

"We are disgusted on how nurses and healthcare workers are being treated by the government as commodities or export products," Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of the Filipino Nurses United, said.

While Britain and Germany have vaccinated a combined 23 million people, the Philippines has yet to begin its campaign to immunise 70 million adults, or two-thirds of its 108 million-strong population. It expects to receive its first batch of vaccines this week, donated by China.

Manila wants to secure 148 million doses of vaccines altogether.

The UK has committed to sending its “surplus” vaccines to poorer countries through the multilateral Covax organisation, rather than use the jabs as “diplomatic leverage” in bilateral arrangements. However, Westminster has not defined “surplus” or said when the extra doses will be identified, beyond “later this year”.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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