Friday, January 21, 2005

Government rejects Netto's remarks as Health rift deepens

Hospital row

Gibraltar Government has said it “rejects and refutes” the remarks about the new hospital made by Nursing Section Chairman Michael Netto on behalf of TGWU/ACTS.

The Government yesterday urged the Union not to “try to hold the Government and the Community to ransom” over the move to the new St Bernard’s. The official statement came shortly after an earlier communiqué by Transport House expressing its support for the Nursing Section “in any action necessary in pursuance of their legitimate rights.”

A Convent Place spokesman said:

The Government will not allow itself or the community at large to be held to ransom over unjustified claims by threats to disrupt the move to the new hospital. The Government will not meet unjustified pay claims to buy a peaceful transfer to the new hospital. The Government will however continue to negotiate justified claims that legitimately arise out of the move to the new hospital. The negotiations are on-going and Government and management will continue to meet during the next few weeks to address legitimate transfer issues and other justified outstanding claims and issues.

Mr Netto’s statements are not true. It is not true that new services at the new hospital will be delayed as a result of the manning of the expanded facilities at Mount Alvernia by a few GHA nurses. Fifty long stay elderly persons who reside in the hospital will be transferred to the much more appropriate new facility at Mount Alvernia. These 50 persons represent more than 33% of all the medical, surgical and geriatric ward patients at the hospital. Yet it is proposed to transfer only 15 out of 140 affected ward nurses (i.e. 10% of the staff).

As a result, not only will all the new proposed services at the new hospital be staffed, but the wards will be staffed at a higher nurse per bed ratio than at the old hospital thereby increasing (not decreasing) staffing levels. Contrary to the impression given by Mr Netto a very significant amount of new staff is being recruited by the GHA and the Elderly Care Agency for the new hospital facilities and the new facilities at Mt Alvernia. Details of these additional staff resources will be provided at the appropriate time. Indeed, the recruitment process has already begun publicly.

It is not clear why Mr Netto chooses to mix up these issues with day to day staff shortages which sometimes occur in some sections. As he well knows this is not the result of there not being enough nurses employed, but of the extraordinary abuse of absenteeism by some nurses. According to GHA management and the Healthcare Review Team nurse absenteeism in Gibraltar is running at an average of about 14% (about 28 days a year), nearly three times the UK rate. These statistics of course conceal the fact that many nurses have a good attendance record. This absenteeism problem places huge strains on staffing levels, forces other nurses to work too many hours of overtime, deprives patients of due care and delays admissions and discharges of patients. The solution to this is not to employ more nurses at taxpayers expense to cover for extraordinary levels of absenteeism, but to tackle the problem of absenteeism. The Nursing Staff can be absolutely certain that in the new hospital wards manning levels will be increased and not decreased.

T&G Union has also said that a state of industrial dispute will exist if a reply is not received to a series of outstanding claims. This gives the false impression that there are numerous such outstanding claims. Most are claims that have been rejected. Two are new claims submitted during the last week. Some are claims which the Union has so far failed to substantiate. Only a few remain with management under consideration in the ordinary course of business.

In a statement last night ACTS said that their main concern is for the welfare of the patients and pointed to the existence of claims that have been outstanding since March 2004. They also express their continuing concern regarding the movement of staff from the GHA to Mount Alvernia.

Meanwhile the Civil Service Union Prospect GGCA has also expressed its discontent “with the treatment of Clerical/Administrative Grades within the Gibraltar Health Authority.” According to Branch Secretary Michael Tampin, there are issues, including historical ones, affecting their members that remain unresolved and others brought about by the move to the new Hospital, “that are being ignored” by the new Management Team. And he has expressed regret that his Union is being treated as “an Association with no teeth.” Mr Tampin said Prospect will not tolerate steamroller tactics used by management. He added:

To date, Prospect GGCA has not had any formal meetings or negotiations with the GHA management either on the move from one Hospital to another, the transitional period in the new Hospital, or for that matter, any other related issue.

We are prepared to take whatever action is necessary, now, to instigate negotiations between the Association, its members and GHA Management before any further attempts of implementation over our heads.


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