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Midwives take industrial action over GHA’s decision to end gynaecologist contracts

Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

The Gibraltar Health Authority has said it is disappointed by its maternity services decision to take industrial action after three gynaecologists work contracts have not been renewed.

The concern from maternity staff is the non-renewal of these contracts would clinically weaken the service and potentially threaten the safety of patients.

Unite said the GHA's decision to terminate these contracts appears to have been reached with little or no consultation.

But the GHA said the Minister for Health met with Unite the Union on Wednesday in a bid to unblock the situation.

“To be clear, the situation is as follows: There are two out of the four gynaecologists who work in the GHA whose contracts expire at the end of December and the end of January. A third one’s contract expires in June 2022,” the GHA said.

The GHA is currently recruiting locum cover in the short term and in parallel will be recruiting substantively and said this process has been explained to Unite the Union.

On Thursday maternity staff worked in non-uniform after raising serious concern over the decision to terminate three consultant gynaecologist contracts.

In a press statement Unite said the GHA had provided no credible rationale for the non-renewal of the contracts of their gynaecology members.

“There remains a requirement for these critical roles within the GHA and yet the Ministry of Health seem content to cause detriment to staff and patients, as well as those members directed impacted with such reckless decision making," Sam Hennessy Regional Officer for Unite the Union said.

“When our frontline members engaged in maternity raised genuine concerns during the meeting at the actions of the GHA to terminate the gynaecologists, certain members of GHA senior management were dismissive and arrogant towards these concerns and those raising them."

"The GHA should be engaging with and taking on-board the views and opinions of the frontline practitioners to improve services, not ignoring them."

In response the GHA said it had considered extending these contracts but there were issues of clinical concern from the care provided by some of these concerned.

“As a result, the GHA is not prepared to consider the union’s request to extend the contracts further upon their expiry,” the GHA said.

“It is regrettable that, notwithstanding the explanation of the above with Unite, and the invitation and commitment to continue engagement and dialogue over the next 48 hours, including the invitation to the Charge Nurse to advise on the recruitment and selection process, this action has been taken.”

The GHA said there are issues that transcend the union’s press release that the Government is keen to discuss, including concerns in patient safety and care within the service which have to be the paramount consideration.

“These are not matters for press releases, but given the Union statements, the GHA feels it is important to provide some background in order to ensure that public confidence in the GHA, and in particular the gynaecology service, is not eroded,” the GHA said.

On Wednesday a petition was launched on calling for the three consultants’ contracts to be extended to ensure continuity of care, and so far has received over 800 signatures.

"The obvious detrimental impact on such an important frontline service is clear for all to see,” Mr Hennessy said.

“We will continue to support our members on the frontline against such attacks.”

“We urge both the Ministry of Health and the GHA to formally rescind the non-renewal notices given to these professionals and to engage constructively with Unite and our members who are the practitioners, on improving maternity services in Gibraltar.”

He said no formal response was received from the GHA until a meeting was arranged, an hour before the deadline, with Ministry of Health, GHA, HMGoG and Unite representatives present.

"Unfortunately no resolution could be reached as the employer side simply sought to trot out, after the event, unfounded, ill-conceived and unclear allegations regarding the gynaecology service as justification for their decision,” Mr Hennessy said.

“Unite raised the contractual malpractices by the employer regarding this issue, that it once again highlights the abuse of temporary contracts and that the GHA’s actions could potentially trigger unfair dismissal claims. This decision is not in the interests of patients, staff or the consultants."

The GHA said it is committed to ensure that expectant mothers and their families and any woman requiring gynaecological treatment receive the best possible care when accessing the service - as is routinely offered by the dedicated and professional staff within the department, principally the midwifery staff, but also including service support staff.

“Going forward, the industrial action is unnecessary and for reasons of patient safety will not have an impact on the outcome of the Government’s decision,” the GHA said.

Women’s sexual health charity, No More Shame said it noted with shock and bitter disappointment the need for industrial action.

“No department should have to undergo such sudden drastic change such as the removal of three consultants in such a short space of time, and the impact this will have on the delivery of frontline services,” said No More Shame.

“That this should happen in a department concerned with women’s healthcare appears to show the lack of regard for the speciality within the GHA.”

“What is most concerning is the lack of consultation with staff members, stakeholders and union representatives, regarding their concerns and opinions.”

“Frontline members of staff should be one of the GHA’s most cherished resources and their concerns seem to have been overlooked to such an extent that they have been forced to take industrial action.”

“To ignore the opinions of frontline staff is to ignore the detrimental impact these changes could have on such an important service and on an already very demoralised workforce.”

“Furthermore it undermines the professional integrity of these frontline staff and the high standard of care that we know every professional aspires to provide.”

“No More Shame supports and respects the opinions of these frontline workers and therefore completely supports the actions of maternity and gynaecology staff, as they are best placed to understand the needs of our community and the impact of any potential change to services.”

“We urge all parties to engage in constructive negotiation immediately to reach a solution to this very disturbing situation in the interest of continuing to provide best care possible.”

“Women in Gibraltar deserve much better than this.”

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