The Philippines has said it will let thousands of its healthcare workers, mostly nurses, take up jobs in Britain and Germany, if the two countries agree to donate coronavirus vaccines.
The department for health said it was not interested in such a deal and its priority was to use vaccines domestically, but said it would share surplus vaccine internationally in the future.
The Philippines, which has among Asia’s highest number of coronavirus cases, has relaxed a ban on deploying its healthcare workers overseas, but still limits the number of medical professionals leaving the country to 5,000 a year.
Alice Visperas, director of the labour ministry’s international affairs bureau, said the Philippines was open to lifting the cap in exchange for vaccines from Britain and Germany, which it would use to inoculate outbound workers and hundreds of thousands of Filipino repatriates.
A department for health spokesperson said there were 11,000 more nurses working in the National Health Service than last year. They said that while it was grateful to the 30,000 Filipinos working for the NHS, Britain did not need to trade vaccines for more.
“We have no plans for the UK to agree a vaccine deal with the Philippines linked to further recruitment of nurses.
“We have confirmed that we will share any surplus vaccines in the future – for example through the COVAX international procurement pool,” they added.
The Philippines wants to secure 148 million doses of vaccines altogether, while Britain has ordered more than 400 million doses, six times its population.
While Britain and Germany have inoculated a combined 23 million people, the Philippines has yet to start its campaign to immunise 70 million adults, or two-thirds of its 108 million people. It expects its first vaccines this week, donated by China.
In 2019, almost 17,000 Filipino nurses signed overseas work contracts, government data showed.
While Filipino nurses have fought to lift the deployment ban to escape poor working conditions and low pay at home, the workers-for-vaccine plan has not gone down well with some medical workers.
“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, told Reuters.