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Govt and GSD clash on cross-border ambulance transfers

Photo by Johnny Bugeja,

The GSD and Gibraltar Government on Tuesday clashed over the GHA ambulance service and the delivery of local patients to Spain for medical treatment.

Earlier in the day the GSD said it had been told that two GHA transport ambulances have been out of action for several months and the GHA are relying on a 15-year St John’s ambulance and crew to transport patients to Spain.

The GSD said: “Gibraltar must have a fully functional and state of the art ambulance resource to provide for transportation of patients to Spain.”

“We call on the Government to set out what contingency measures are in place to mitigate risks to patients as a result of a lack of working ambulances.”

“On a related issue, as a result of Brexit, GHA ambulances with non-Spanish resident paramedics and medical crew were unable to transport routine (non-emergency) patients to Spain unless all members of the crew had Spanish contracts of employment, the same rule applied to St John’s Ambulance personnel.”

“The GSD are also informed that all non-emergency/routine trips are, in the main, being dealt with by Spanish ambulances companies, whilst a narrow gateway exists to allow for GHA ambulances to transport patients to Spain in emergency situations only and where documentary evidence is provided to Spanish officials at the border from by a medical professional to support the urgent transit.”

Shadow Minister for Health, Elliott Phillips, said: “It is crucial that we have fully functional and state of the art ambulances which can be deployed in emergency and non-emergency situations.”

“Ambulances are a critical and essential resource for our hard-working paramedics and other first responders, and it is shocking to hear that two of our ambulances have been out of action for several months."

A second, and equally important issue, arises in the context of how GHA ambulances should be operating in Spain, Mr Phillips added.

“We have now been living with the consequences of Brexit for several years and the failure of the Government to get a safe, secure, and beneficial treaty is palpable,” Mr Phillips said.

“It is clear that the failure in political leadership is having a real impact on the ability of our ambulances and GHA staff to properly deal with transportation of patients to medical facilities across our land border.”

“So important was the matter back in March 2022 that the Government issued a press statement where they said that it would raise the matter with the British and Spanish Governments.”

But he added that it is clear that despite raising this issue regarding the transport of patients across the border with their counterparts in both Britain and Spain over a year ago, “no lasting and sustainable solution has yet been found”.

“Gibraltar needs a gateway that allows ambulances and their crews to work across the border with ease in non-emergency and emergency situations,” Mr Phillips added.

“We need to have a protocol in place which strips our red tape.”

“It is deeply disappointing that no arrangements have been put in place to resolve this longstanding issue.”

“We call on the Government to issue an urgent statement on this matter."

GOVT RESPONDS

Responding to the Opposition, No.6 Convent Place said the issue with cross-border transfers arose because of Brexit and that the issue had been aired in Parliament recently.

No.6 Convent Place questioned Mr Phillips’ absence from Parliament, adding that the challenges with ambulance services werediscussed in Parliament “just two months ago”.

“Mr Phillips has clearly not been listening to Parliamentary sessions on this very subject where on May 24 this year, just two months ago, this exact subject was discussed in answer to a question from the Leader of the Opposition and the details of the arrangements explained in full,” the statement from the Government said.

“Was Mr Phillips away then too?”

“The simple position as explained in Parliament is Gibraltar ambulances are, as a result of Brexit, only permitted to transport patients into Spain in emergencies.”

“All other ambulance services into Spain are provided to the GHA by three Spanish ambulance contractors.”

The Government said this is one of the consequences of Gibraltar’s departure from the European Union and the termination of the bridging measures which had been unilaterally extended by Spain.

“The solution that was found, after raising the issue with the United Kingdom and Spain, was precisely for GHA emergency ambulances to be allowed through the border in life and death situations,” the Government said.

“This eliminated the urgent concern that the Government highlighted in March 2022.”

“Mr Philips does not yet seem to have realised that the reason why there is no treaty is because there are sovereignty lines that this Government will not cross, unless of course, he is saying that he would be prepared to do such a deal even though it is not safe, not secure and not beneficial for Gibraltar.”

“Mr Phillips has again demonstrated how completely out of touch he is with reality, and why the Opposition cannot be trusted on the details of any matter as they simply do not do their homework.”

“An incredible way to serve our community.”

“Gibraltar deserves a better opposition.”

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