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GHA and Govt react furiously to ‘woefully inaccurate’ statement from Unite’s General Secretary

The Gibraltar Health Authority and the Gibraltar Government have hit out at “misleading and woefully inaccurate” statements made by Unite the Union’s top UK official, Sharon Graham, who on Tuesday accused of the GHA of employment practices that were “dangerous and unfair”.

In a press statement issued after Unite’s healthcare workers demonstration, the GHA said it was taken back by Ms Graham’s statement, claiming it was “clearly authored by someone who does not know or understand Gibraltar”.

The GHA said Ms Graham had not accurately reflected the situation within the GHA or the sentiments expressed by the workforce to the Director General on a daily basis.

The Gibraltar Government echoed the GHA, stating Ms Graham’s comments were “clearly based on misinformation unfairly fed to her” by some in Gibraltar and elsewhere who wished to use the GHA “for their own, narrow union and party-political agendas”.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, as Minister for Industrial Relations, has written to Ms Graham, seeking a meeting directly with her, to ensure that she is “fully aware of the reality on the ground” in Gibraltar and the GHA in particular.

“Ms Graham’s remarks might not be out of place in Grantham or Granchester, but they certainly are not relevant to Gibraltar where our local workforce’s salary and terms and conditions are the envy of any NHS clinicians or staff members,” Mr Picardo said.

“The statement by Ms Graham is another misleading and inaccurate reflection of the objective facts by UK based union official who is unaware of the realities on the ground in Gibraltar.”

The GHA recognised that some staff have legitimate concerns, which they are working with them to address.

“However, there are also staff who are willing to listen to senior management, understand the organisational position and who want to work with senior management for the benefit of both staff and patients,” the GHA said.

“Unite’s allegation of ‘dangerous and unfair practices’ is wholly untrue.”

“Any concerns regarding patient safety are immediately addressed. The GHA maintains that its primary responsibility is to its patients.”

Similarly, the GHA said it did not recognise Unite’s assertion that the lives and jobs of staff have “been made worse”.

“Since the Director General began in the new role in January, happy staff have worked with senior management on service development and are already translating their ideas into practice,” the GHA said.

“There is no evidence that lives have been made worse as a result of the changes being implemented as part of Reset, Restart and Recover.”

“The GHA remains committed to listening to staff and enabling them to lead the transformational agenda.”

The GHA said it strongly disputes Unite’s untrue accusations regarding the misuse of insecure contracts and has already publicly confirmed that over 380 contracts have been signed since January.

The GHA added it is working hard on legacy cases and consciously appointing more staff to permanent positions as part of a considered policy to move away from the use of short-term contracts.

“I would like to take this opportunity to reassure the public that vulnerable people will not be put at risk on my watch,” GHA Director General, Patrick Geoghegan, said.

“I, together with the GHA’s executive team and clinical management team, remain determined to continue to work on behalf of the GHA’s patients and ensure they receive the care they deserve."

“I am extremely disappointed at the wording in the statement issued by Unite and I don’t believe that it reflects current day practice in the GHA. It must be very disappointing for those staff across the GHA who are working so hard every day to see their efforts disparaged in this way by those who purport to represent them.”

The GHA said it has recently appointed 50 new support workers to permanent posts who were previously on bank and short-term contracts, adding this is just one example of the GHA’s open door policy of working alongside staff to address legitimate concerns.

“Unite have, at best, misunderstood the GHA’s stance on nursing contracts and are misleading their members as to the situation,” the GHA said.

“The GHA, far from cancelling relief cover for nurses, are in fact appointing more nurses to permanent contracts, which in turn means that less money is needed to fund relief cover. The GHA reassures nurses that relief cover will always be available where and when it is necessary.”

Mr Picardo said the Government has already “clearly demonstrated” its desire to de-politicise the Gibraltar Health Authority, empowering the Director General to address matters that were previously dealt with by ministers and ministries, including matters concerning industrial relations.

“I nonetheless cannot let this statement by the General Secretary of Unite go unanswered and I am so concerned by the depth of its inaccuracies that I have sought a meeting with Ms Graham to share with her my view of how well we are funding the GHA, principally in order to enable it to recruit and retain the best people on the best terms and conditions – much better than those Unite has negotiated for them in the UK,” Mr Picardo said.

“Unite’s insistence on marching to No.6 highlights that the message on de-politicising the GHA not yet hit home, that Ms Graham’s call to support a march to No.6 falls foul of this de-politicisation agenda, and that our very own opposition parties are happy to jump on the union’s obvious desire to re-politicise GHA in order to further enhance their own party political ambitions.”

“Health and care are important facets of our public infrastructure and I will make sure that the Gibraltar Health Authority will continue to have the resources it needs to best ensure the heath service for all Gibraltarians and to provide dignified jobs for those working within health and care, as is already the case.”

Mr Picardo said the Director General has “genuinely opened and continues to keep open” his doors to dialogue and positive and pragmatic engagement with the relevant unions and its representatives.

“Today’s march does not change this posture, nor does it assist it in any way,” he said.

“The statement from Ms Graham fails to reflect the reality on the ground and will inevitably be regretted by Unite’s leadership in the United Kingdom when they understand the real facts on the ground and the massive positive differences in salaries and terms and conditions which their members in Gibraltar benefit from and which Ms Graham and others in Unite’s leadership are clearly not aware of.”

“It is as erroneous a statement as that made by Howard Beckett, another Unite Official, when he claimed on a May Day that workers in Gibraltar were ‘worse off’ than those in the UK, when the complete opposite is true by any objective measure.”

Mr Picardo said the Government has not cut back on services or on pay in the past 10 years, as has been the case in the United Kingdom and instead has almost doubled investment in health services.

“Indeed, in the past 10 years the Government has directly and permanently employed more and more staff at the GHA, not less, as is the case in the UK,” he said.

“There has been no policy of austerity in the GHA as there has been in the NHS on Unite’s watch in the UK.”

Mr Picardo added the Government continued to “genuinely and sincerely” value and support all and each and every one of the employees of the Gibraltar Health Authority, regardless of union affiliation or attendance at the demonstration, “which is their democratic right”.

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