Hontiveros flags P2.04-B cut in 2021 budget for public hospitals
The National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) sets up a tent to serve as the receiving area for medical workers to screen possible COVID-19 patients in Quezon City on April 2, 2020.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman
Hontiveros flags P2.04-B cut in 2021 budget for public hospitals
(Philstar.com) - October 22, 2020 - 11:30am

MANILA, Philippines — As the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of slowing, a senator on Thursday said it would be "fatal" to slash the health department's budget for public hospitals in 2021. 

"Billions worth of cuts in the middle of a pandemic means we drastically slashed the capacity of government hospitals to provide services and medicines for free. Because of this, people's out of pocket expenses will rise. This is grossly anti-poor and anti-people," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said partially in Filipino. 

She was referring to a P2.04-billion cut in the Department of Health's 2021 budget for the operations of accredited public hospitals which covers the cost of "utilities, medicine, diagnostic procedures, IV fluids and other expenses essential to patient care."

"In the face of this massive health emergency, we have no choice but to give these hospitals what they need. The consequences could prove fatal. Many might die because they were refused care when they needed it the most. This can be prevented if we channel funds wisely," Hontiveros said. 

List of hospitals and the corresponding budget cuts found in the 2021 proposed budget. Released/Office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros

Hospitals critical to COVID-19 response suffering the biggest budget cuts

Citing the country's critical case rate of 3.31%, Hontiveros emphasized that around 588 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19 every week. Despite this, the three hospitals which suffered the biggest cuts, the senator pointed out, are major coronavirus referral centers in cities that have the highest number of cases in their respective regions. 

"Quirino Memorial Medical Center (QMMC), situated in Quezon City, which has the highest number of cases in the whole Philippines, is currently at 'warning level' status at 67.2% bed occupancy. Despite this, it was refused P305.48 million pesos for optimal operations," she said. 

Meanwhile, Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao — the biggest hospital in the country — received a P699.2-million budget cut. The hospital is currently at full capacity for COVID-19 patients while its general ward occupancy is at 97%, according to Hontiveros. 

Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Hospital, the senator added, also suffered a P242.19 million cut despite being a major COVID-19 testing center in Bacolod City. 

"Most of these hospitals are in emerging, if not current, hotspot areas. Shouldn't common sense tell us that when the threat is rising, we provide reinforcement? We don't know when this pandemic will end, so our hospitals have to be ever-ready to deal with the influx of patients," Hontiveros said.

Call for bigger health budget in 2021 renewed

The senator also flagged that the DOH's budget request for the Prevention and Control of Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases was reduced by P10 billion — emphasizing that the budgets for both the prevention and treatment of disease have suffered "massive" cuts. 

"We cannot simply [be] 'business-as-usual'. Our hospitals need to be extremely fortified to deal with the rising number of cases. We also need to take into account non-COVID patients who need attention," she said partially in Filipino, adding that the pandemic does not rule out the adverse effects of other diseases. 

Hontiveros earlier urged a P48.7 billion increase for the health department's total 2021 budget which she said would allow the country to fully transition into a new normal. 

"Our current budget pretends that we aren't in the biggest health crisis of our lifetimes. Let's show that we care for Filipinos by ensuring that the taxes we pay go straight to our health and wellbeing." — Bella Perez-Rubio

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