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Unite and Govt clash over delays with GP appointments

Pic: Johnny Bugeja

Unite the Union on Thursday accused the Ministry for Health of ‘manipulating’ information to explain delays faced by patients seeking appointments with GPs at the Primary Care Centre.

In a statement, Unite said frontline workers had been unfairly used as scapegoats to divert attention from “ministerial interference” in the Gibraltar Health Authority.

The statement drew a swift response from the Gibraltar Government, which said it was “appalled” by the union’s reaction.

No.6 Convent Place said it had simply set out the factual circumstances that led to the disruption at the PCC as the GHA resumed normal service after the Covid-19 pandemic, insisting it had no pre-judged the outcome of an investigation into how delays with appointments arose.

The union was reacting after the ministry said the delays at the PCC were in large part due to the high number of GPs who were off work or unavailable due to other duties.

That, coupled to an influx of people seeking appointments, led to disruption and delays with appointments, the ministry said, adding that Health Minister Samantha Sacramento had ordered an investigation.

But unite said the ministry was in effect blaming GPs for systemic failings at the GHA.

“The union is appalled at the way the Ministry of Health has manipulated information to lay the blame at the foot of frontline workers instead of taking ownership of their own failings in transitioning back into normality post COVID-19,” said Sam Hennessy, Regional Officer for Unite Gibraltar.

“The press release issued by the Ministry of Health did not account for the fact that staff who were deployed to other areas were not provided with any backfill for clinical sessions.”

“Therefore naturally this causes greater strains on availability of appointments.”

“We believe it is unfair that staff who have given their complete dedication to the community in the biggest health crisis in living memory are now scapegoated publicly to provide cover for ministerial interference in the Gibraltar Health Authority.”

“The community and our members deserve transparency and answers when systemic failings cause for the health service to not perform as it should.”

“The accountability must be shouldered at a political level.”

Mr Hennessy said the union had written to the Ministry for Health detailing the concerns of its members.

He expressed disappointment that the response “sought to divide and rule” between the community and frontline staff in the GHA.

“That is why we are now compelled to set the record straight once and for all,” he said.

“The investigation which was completed on the premise of miscued information and the press release which targeted doctors last Friday will not improve standards of care for the community or morale for workers in the GHA.”

“We continue to demand immediate engagement and clarification in how the investigation was conducted and how recommendations from that investigation will be implemented in the interests of frontline workers and for the community they serve.”

“Going forward we hope that the Ministry of Health will not resort to finger pointing but engage constructively for the betterment of all those that rely on our vital Gibraltar Health Authority.”

GOVT REACTS

Last night, the Gibraltar Government said it was “appalled” by Unite’s statement on the disruption experienced at the Primary Care Centre.

“All that the Government has done, through the Ministry of Health, is to set out the facts and explain that the Government in investigating complaints has held primary care to account because the service to patients was found wanting due to lack of appointments,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

“The simple fact was that the number of appointments had been seriously reduced because of the number of GPs available at a given moment in time.”

“The figures relayed were those provided to the Medical Director by the management of the PCC.”

“The Government has not made a judgement on this matter and has only confined itself to putting the reasons for the lack of appointments into the public domain.”

“Indeed, the Government has provided more GPs, more resources and more staff to the GHA than ever before, and remains fully committed to support the health service in the future.”

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