Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Smooth transfer but Nurses' dispute simmers on

The doors closed finally on St Bernard’s Hospital, Hospital Hill on Saturday at 3 pm – not a single hitch in the transfer to the new St Bernard’s at Europort.

Despite continued restlessness amongst nursing staff the transfer was carried out efficiently and Ernest Britto, Minister for Health, declared he was delighted with the way all parties had contributed.

Nurses on ‘unofficial’ action agreed on Saturday morning to suspend their intended ‘no uniforms’ action after the Gibraltar Health Authority suggested that it might have to call off the transfer.

With most staff called in for the operation there were two hospitals being run in parallel for five hours and the new hospital dealt with its first Accident and Emergency incident five minutes after its official opening.

“I have nothing but praise for the staff,” said Mr Britto. “I am delighted. We now have a brand new state of the art hospital and environment that is better for both patients and staff.”

Dr David McCutcheon, the GHA Chief Executive, said yesterday that the ambulance access to the hospital is notably improved with the move away from the town centre. He reported that there had been full attendance of staff on Saturday and that the performance by staff had been excellent.

The nursing section committee that was re-elected on Friday - but not with TGWU/ACTS official endorsement - issued a statement yesterday also paying tribute to the nurses, doctors, management, Friends of Mount Alvernia and those including the police who contributed to the successful move. “The success was due to the high level of professionalism, commitment and conscientiousness characteristic of GHA employees and others,” said the Committee. But it regretted the “heavy handed tactics” which it said had been employed by the GHA against nurses. They claimed it a sad day and said that senior management were being used under a ‘hygiene’ smokescreen and that there had been an attempt to portray nurses as villains in the community.

The nurses committee said that despite these adverse conditions they had done the job but nonetheless sent a clear message that they would not be bullied or intimidated. They added that there was overwhelming support for the action. In an apparently sarcastic tone the Committee said it appreciated the GHA’s “new found interest” in health and safety. They said that the GHA had been in breach of this since 1996 by not employing a health and safety officer who could make assessment and reports on this issue. They added that if this role were fulfilled “accidents which the GHA has been prone to” could be reduced.

The Nursing Section Committee also appealed to all trade unionists and the community “ not to be hoodwinked by false statement emanating from some sources who wish to criminalize individuals of the committee for acting on behalf of nurses.

We will continue to try and resolve disputes whenever possible through reasonable and above board negotiations. We will not approve agreements that are not ratified by the members, nor will nurses surrender our human rights principles to pursue claims.

The view was not shared by Mr Britto who said that as far as the GHA is concerned there is no dispute with the union. On the non-wearing of uniforms Mr Britto said that the concern had been to have things done properly and that the wearing of uniforms is part of the rules and regulations governing nursing staff and a management requirement.

“This is a wild cat action,” said Mr Britto who said that there had been discussion with the ‘unofficial’ committee on Saturday to resolve the uniform dispute. “The reality is that the GHA does not have a dispute with the TGWU/ACTS and nor does the union have a dispute with the GHA,” said Mr Britto.

440 Years as a Medical Facility

The wards and corridors of the old hospital have been at the heart of community life and the move has already had a notable impact on the area where Gibraltar has had a hospital in one form or another since 1564 when a private house was used to tend the sick. Even after the capture of Gibraltar in 1704 the monks of San Juan de Dios maintained a hospital there that later become the Garrison Hospital until the old Naval Hospital open in its day as the ‘new hospital’. After some years being stores and the Blue Barracks’ the ruins were rebuilt to set up the civil hospital after the sieges. That later became the colonial hospital and then in the 1960s St Bernard’s as we know it.

Its rambling buildings have an uncertain future. The Government has indicated that it will seek to preserve the heritage aspects of the original building and there is some consideration to the Mackintosh wing being used as an additional facility to Mount Alvernia for the elderly. The building was handed back to the Government when it closed at the weekend.

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