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GSD accuses Govt of ‘whitewash’ over Prof Burke’s claims

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

The GSD has accused the Gibraltar Government of piling legal pressure on the former Head of Clinical Governance at the GHA, Professor Derek Burke, in a bid to “whitewash” claims that patient safety was being put at risk because of systemic failures in the organisation.

The GSD was reacting after the Gibraltar Government issued a statement on Thursday announcing that Prof Burke had withdrawn an employment case against the GHA, and in which he was quoted saying he was “satisfied” that the GHA was tackling the issues he had identified.

He said he had been unaware of the work at the GHA due to ill health in the months before he left the post in July this year.

Prof Burke had earlier set out his concerns in a series of explosive emails to GHA colleagues that included internal, confidential GHA documents.

But last week he was served with an injunction obtained from the Supreme Court by the GHA preventing him – or anyone he had shared the emails and supporting documents with – from further disclosing the material.

The claim filed by the GHA’s lawyers also sought damages and legal costs, according to court documents.

On Friday, the GSD said that while Prof Burke had withdrawn his employment case, he had not taken back the allegations raised in his emails.

“He may have withdrawn his employment case against the Government but the undeniable fact is that his central complaint that there were systemic issues in GHA that were affecting patient safety and causing preventable harm and death has not been withdrawn,” the GSD said in a statement.

“The ‘agreed’ statement is a whitewash plainly entered into after pressure was brought to bear.”

“Nothing in the agreed statement addresses the systemic issues at the heart of his 2020 complaints on harm and death.”

“Only an independent investigation on those issues will properly shed light on these serious issues which the public are entitled to have clarified.”

The GSD said the Government had “brought pressure to bear” on Prof Burke on the side issue of disclosure of information and forced him to withdraw.

But it said this did not affect the substances of his original allegations or the need for an independent investigation and clinical governance audit of the GHA arising from the issues he had raised.

“There is clearly more than meets the eye on the Burke proceedings withdrawal and the Government cannot airbrush away the widely disseminated allegations of systemic failures, patient harm and preventable death,” said Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition.

“Indeed the Government has now felt able to explain in detail what it is doing and what it says it was committed to do since they received his report in 2020.”

“That’s as good as saying the allegations must have been true. They did not do so when questioned in Parliament.”

“If they were doing all these things why could they not have said so in Parliament when the GSD raised questions in May 2021?”

“In fact they then disparaged Professor Burke as a charlatan and dismissed his allegations.”

“Is this a recent repackaging of events? The GHA is one of our most important institutions.”

“We all want it to succeed but the Government need to take criticism of systemic failure seriously.”

“Brushing things under the carpet or trashing those who speak out is not the right way to do things.”

“Besides it will not be lost on people that the thrust of the ‘agreed statement’ is that the Government is now saying it is dealing with issues brought up by Professor Burke, when only a few months ago the Chief Minister misled Parliament by saying there was no shred of evidence on the allegations being made by Professor Burke.”

“It needs to decide which it is. Is it that the allegations were untrue as they said in Parliament or is it that they were true and that they are now dealing with it in accordance with Professor Burke’s report of 2020 to which the Chief Minister is now saying he was committed all along?”

The GSD asked whether prof Burke had now been “threatened with the full might of the legal resources of Government” in order to silence his allegations.

In the statement issued by the Government, Prof Burke was quoted saying it would be “wrong” for the changes needed at the GHA to become a “party-political witch-hunt which will impede progress”.

For the GSD, that sentence was a giveaway.

“That line can only have come from the pen of the Government which wants to stifle political debate on the truth of these matters,” the party said.

“This is a Government that introduced whistle-blowers legislation but when a senior doctor blows the whistle on the way the GHA is run its instinct is to silence criticism.”

“It should, instead, hold an independent investigation to deal with the allegations and allay public concerns.”
“The reality is Professor Burke was sued.”

“When faced with a Government which has the attitude that money is no object in silencing its critics, it is not surprising that he would cave in.”

In the statement, Prof Burke had also praised Health Minister Samantha Sacramento, with whom he enjoyed “a very positive working relationship”.

But the GSD said this was “completely lacking in credibility” given that Prof Burke had earlier indicated he had had little contact with the minister or success in discussing his concerns.

The GSD also said this was at odds with a statement by the Chief Minister to Parliament earlier this year in which he said he had not received any material to substantiate Prof Burke’s claims.

“This is akin to a condemned man signing any piece of paper with a gun to his head,” Mr Azopardi said.

“The Government cannot audit and congratulate itself on dealing with the systemic issues.”

“Confidence will not be restored until there is an independent external audit.”

“This self-congratulatory statement is a monument to a rewriting of the truth of what happened and does not affect the original allegations which have not been withdrawn.”

“No one believes this is a conversion on the road to Damascus by someone who was ill at the time and missed the departmental memo.”

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