Return Service Agreement in the Context of the Universal Health Care Act: Using International and Local Experiences to Guide Application of the RSA
Background. Philippines is in a constant struggle to address shortage and maldistribution of health professionals, affecting equity in service delivery. The government endeavors to generate adequate supply of health workforce through scholarship and training programs which have been further expanded with the enactment of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act. This article aimed to give a background for discussion on the application of return service agreement (RSA) provisions in the light of attaining universal health care.
Methods. A modified systematic review of literature was conducted guided by the key issues determined by the Department of Health with focus on the extent of scholarship grants and on number of recipients.
Results. The Philippine government enacted policy reforms through implementing RSA in response to the progressive decline of the net flow of health professionals. However, the criticisms lie in that RSA is not a long-term solution. With the RSA provisions in the UHC Law, metrics on determining the under-produced and maldistributed professional cadre must be created. These should be responsive in addressing facility-level and health system-level gaps.
Conclusion and Recommendation. Paucity of current local literature impedes attaining a conclusive body of evidence, therefore, further research is needed. Operationalization of RSA should not be viewed as a singular means to solve the health workforce gaps, but as part of holistic assessment, taking into consideration epidemiological, geographical, political, and social determinants. Stakeholders must ingress in collaborative intersectoral policy actions to warrant bottom-up support. Activities related to mapping, monitoring, and incentivizing medical and health-related professionals must be established to support a system conducive for workforce retention.