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Govt apologises for PCC disruption, acknowledging challenge of return to regular service after pandemic

Pic: Johnny Bugeja

The Minister for Health, Samantha Sacramento, yesterday apologised for the disruption experienced by users of the Primary Care Centre, underscoring the challenges faced by the Gibraltar Health Authority in resuming regular health services after the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Ms Sacramento noted the concerns raised by many members of the public about the availability of GP appointments and the effectiveness of the PCC telephone system, adding an investigation had been launched to establish the cause.

Since the announcement of the increased availability of face-to-face appointments last week, this resulted in a high demand for appointments, but with GPs either on annual leave, sick leave or deployed elsewhere, this affected the day-to-day running of the system.

“The team at the GHA have worked very hard throughout the pandemic, with their leave being cancelled,” Ms Sacramento said.

“It must also be remembered that PCC Staff are also deployed to the Vaccination Centre that is still operational.”

“It is unfortunate that when we moved to increase the number of face-to-face appointments two weeks ago, various factors have come together which have led to a service to the public being compromised which I do not find acceptable and l apologise for this.”

“As such, I requested an investigation and I have met with the Medical Director to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Since the announcement of face-to-face appointments, there has been a tremendous volume of calls to the PCC, No.6 Convent Place said in the statement.

Officers from other Government departments have been deployed to cope with the high volume of telephone issues while the system is reviewed in depth.

The investigation revealed that over the past two weeks, a high number of GPs were away from work and 15 GPs were not available.

“Whereas there is an existing agreement that only five GPs out of the 28 contracted should be unavailable from the PCC at any given time, last week 8.5 GPs were away for Annual Leave, the remainder were on sick leave, off duty due to being on call or deployed at the vaccination centre,” the Government said.

“It is also true that there has been an influx in the number of people calling to see a doctor as Gibraltar has moved out of lockdown and this in itself has created a considerable backlog, which now needs to be managed.”

“Furthermore, the problem has been worsened by the frequency of Bank Holidays over the last two weeks, meaning that less clinics were available than normal.”

“This has resulted in the non-availability of medical appointments for a culmination of reasons.”

However, the statistics for the month of April show that nearly 8000 patients were seen by GPs.

On the week commencing April 5, 1887 appointments were made, 2428 in the week commencing April 12, 2067 in the week commencing April 19, and 1582 in the week of April 26.

“The Government and the GHA would like to apologise to those persons who are still waiting their turn to see a GP,” the Government added.

“The Minister for Heath and the GHA management are now working on proposals to increase the number of appointments that will be made available to the public on a daily basis.”

For her part, Ms Sacramento added: “We need to realise that there is no 'switch' we can flick that moves from a 'pandemic' setting to 'normal'.”

“We have to properly calibrate how our services are reintroduced to ensure that we are providing what the public need in access to primary health care, in which we have invested more than any Government in our history.”

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