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Govt responds after TG raises questions on PPE in wake of virus outbreak at Children’s Health Centre

The Gibraltar Government yesterday insisted there was no shortage of protective gear for frontline healthcare workers dealing with Covid-19, responding to questions raised by Together Gibraltar following an outbreak of the virus in the Children’s Health Centre.

Together Gibraltar called on the Government to provide answers about the outbreak, adding that the spread of the virus was of “grave concern” to many in the community.

But the Government said it had already addressed the questions raised by the party, and accused Together Gibraltar of politicising the crisis.

The exchange came after the Government announced earlier this week that there were six confirmed cases and one suspected case of coronavirus among staff at the Children’s Health Centre. The latter subsequently tested negative.

These individuals had been isolated and the Government yesterday added they were doing well, and that test results were pending for another 18 swabs taken from healthcare workers.

The facility was closed for cleaning and decontamination before it was reopened to the public yesterday, but the questions remained.

Together Gibraltar said it had been supportive of the Government’s efforts to tackle the crisis, but that it had a duty too to ask questions.

Central to its concerns was how an outbreak of the virus could have occurred in a “clean” area of the health services, meaning an area that was not dealing with confirmed Covid-19 patients.

“This is an area that was being kept apart for the treatment of non-Covid-19 related ailments, ailments that, as has been said time and again by our Director of Public Health, continue to occur [because] people do not stop falling ill from other causes,” the statement from Together Gibraltar said.

The party said the work of primary health care was essential, adding: “Gibraltarians must feel safe to approach these services when symptoms of other illnesses arise, before these become critical or life threatening.”

“What we as a community experienced after the news was relayed was a sense of doubt and insecurity that other areas of health care are safe to access.”

The party raised questions on the availability of PPE equipment for frontline healthcare workers in Gibraltar, adding: “We continue to be alarmed by statements from our Health Minister and the Director of Public Health welcoming the fact that healthcare workers are falling ill from Covid-19.”

Ministers and officials have stated on numerous occasions that this will create a body of GHA workers with a degree of immunity to the virus.

But Together Gibraltar remained unconvinced.

“Healthcare workers are at the highest risk of contracting this disease, and around the world, it is health care workers who are dying at an alarming rate,” the party said.

“We believe that these stated positions, reminiscent of the maligned ‘herd immunity’ strategies, should not drive our response to the pandemic.”

“We should be deploying all the necessary resources to stop as many healthcare workers from getting the disease as possible, and reducing contagion as much as possible.”

“All the time healthcare workers are off sick or in self-isolation and not available because of the effects of the virus, our response capabilities are reduced.”

Together Gibraltar asked why it was not imperative to insist that frontline healthcare staff wear personal protective equipment [PPE] to protect both themselves and patients from possible infections in the Children’s Health Centre.

Yesterday Health Minister Paul Balban said staff at the centre had indeed been wearing PPE kit.

Together Gibraltar also asked whether there was sufficient PPE available in Gibraltar for frontline medical, healthcare and social care workers to protect themselves, and it was this question that drew a response from the Government.

“We can confirm that the GHA has an abundance of PPE and continues to order PPE to keep pace with daily use while ensuring PPE will still be available if there is a surge in Covid-19 cases; there will be no shortage in Gibraltar for GHA staff,” No.6 Convent Place said.

“There is absolutely no reason for Together Gibraltar to have suggested the opposite.”

“In fact, the GHA personnel involved in the Children’s Health Centre issue were all wearing PPE at all times that they came into contact with patients, as set out in our press release, and in line with public health advice.”

The Government said the public wanted it to concentrate on the “continued slowing” of the virus, and said: “The situation in Gibraltar continues to be under control and the work being done by the GHA and the Government on the basis of Public Health advice is bearing fruit.”