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Opposition parties join forces to make mental health a priority issue

Photo John Bugeja

Gibraltar’s Opposition parties have jointly called for the establishment of a select committee of the Gibraltar Parliament on mental health.

A motion tabled by the GSD and supported by Together Gibraltar urges a cross-party approach to mental health issues.

It urges the creation of a select committee to report to Parliament on improvements to mental health services in Gibraltar, particularly in the light of recommendations set out in the 2019 report ‘Mental Health Situational Analysis Report’ prepared by Public Health England.

The motion proposes the committee consist of three government members and two from the Opposition bench, one each from the GSD and TG.

“The issue of mental well-being is a major issue for this community,” said Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the GSD, adding this issue had come to the fore in recent years,

“Whether it’s the effects of social media, isolation because of Covid, resources or the fragmented delivery of services, it is generally accepted that there are issues putting the strain on mental health services.”

“I believe it should be an issue on which politicians should be able to work together across parties.”

Mr Azopardi said he had written to the Chief Minister and TG Leader Marlene Hassan Nahon last year on a proposal for a motion to establish a select committee on mental health.

He said Ms Hassan Nahon had welcomed and supported the initiative, but he had not yet received a reply from the Chief Minister.

“Having a cross-party committee will lead to an important review of progress and monitoring of improvements in mental health for the good of the entire community,” Mr Azopardi said.

“This committee can take advice and hear evidence from experts, GHA personnel, practitioners and users of mental health services.”

“It will help ensure that mental well-being remains a priority.”

“This was already important last year as there were significant concerns that improvements needed to be made to services to improve integrated delivery or respond to the pressures.”

“While Mr Picardo has not yet supported this proposal, I hope he will do so when the motion is considered in Parliament.”

Together Gibraltar said Ms Hassan Nahon had welcomed the GSD’s motion “with great enthusiasm”, adding it was not the first time the TG Leader had “reached across the House” on this issue.

In 2016, Ms Hassan Nahon worked jointly with the Gibraltar Government to put forward a composite motion on mental health, which was then passed by the House.

TG said the motion delivered some results but did not address the entirety of the issues raised, “ultimately failing to bring this long-neglected service up to acceptable standards.”

TG said there was much work to do on the mental health front, “particularly in light of the crisis caused by the ongoing pandemic”, adding it was time all parties worked together “with urgency and determination.”

According to TG, draft version of the GSD motion was presented to the Gibraltar Government almost a year ago, but both Opposition parties had yet to receive a response on the matter.

They remain hopeful of Government support, the party added.

“The Covid crisis is much more than just the impacts of the virus,” Ms Hassan Nahon said.

“It is a multifaceted crisis, affecting several aspects of our healthcare provision, our education system, the economy and our social fabric.”

“It has highlighted many inequalities, making life particularly difficult for those with lower incomes, pre-existing healthcare issues and less supportive social networks.”

“Mental health is one of these aspects, and one that already carried the problems created by decades of neglect.”

“I believe this issue is non-partisan, and am happy to work with my opposition colleagues to achieve this committee, which will benefit of the entire community, regardless of their political affiliations.”

“I hope the Government hear our call and respond to these pressing needs as a matter of urgency.”

Elliott Phillips, the GSD’s Shadow Health Minister underscored the Opposition’s view that urgent action was vital.

“There can be no question that we must change the way mental health is delivered in Gibraltar and the Government must now acknowledge the haphazard and fragmented way in which mental health has been dealt with in the past,” he said.

“Gibraltar must have a clear strategy and a road map based on an honest and genuine recognition of where the system is letting patients down and where we need to get to.”

“Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus mental health services and underscored the priority moving forward.”

“The motion has been brought as a cross party initiative by the opposition and it should receive the full support of all members and the Government.”

Govt says Opposition ‘should have gone extra mile’ in pursuit of consensus

The Gibraltar Government last night said the Opposition should have raised its proposed motion during last Friday’s session of the Gibraltar Parliament in order to best garner government support, adding that consensus on mental health issues “can only be good for Gibraltar.”

In a statement, No.6 Convent Place said this would have been “the perfect opportunity” for the Opposition to have reminded the government of an outstanding reply on the matter.

“It is a genuine pity that the Leader of the Opposition did not go the extra mile and properly consult on Friday, even though he knows full well that his motion will not prosper without Government support,” No.6 said.

“The Chief Minister has indicated on several occasions that he is perfectly open, as the Leader of the House, to consider a request for a motion to be agreed by consensus because such cooperation on these issues can only be good for Gibraltar.”

The Government noted there had been an earlier “thorough, lengthy and detailed” debate in Parliament in November 2016 on the subject of mental health.

The debate was based on a GSD motion which was later amended by both the Government and Marlene Hassan Nahon, the Leader of Together Gibraltar, with each supporting the other’s changes.

“The GSD Opposition did not agree with this consensus on mental health issues and voted against the final amended motion,” No.6 said in the statement.

“The 2016 motion recognised that the Government employed a structured multi-agency approach to mental healthcare and it already partially used the NHS(UK) model, which it invited the Government to consider implementing in its entirety, in the same way as the approach works in the UK, in order to achieve maximum efficiency of care.”

“The GSD opposition voted against this.”

“The 2016 motion also commended the Government to continue to relentlessly pursue the improvement in mental healthcare provision by basing its policies on the best medical advice and working hand-in-glove with professionals and civil society to design and deliver optimum support for persons with mental health issues.”

“The GSD Opposition also voted against this.”

No.6 added: “In the context of the GSD Opposition’s failure to support the 2016 mental health motion, their breach of the consensus that was found at that time and their unwillingness to chase up their request on Friday, they have now created a predicament for everyone including themselves.”

“It saddens the Government to find that we are now faced with this situation over an important issue like mental health where parliamentarians should best work together.”

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