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ERG/AOP Executive meet Director General of GHA

Prof. Patrick Geogheghan, Director General GHA

‘The GHA appointment and phone system is due some important improvements, and we can expect significant announcements in this regard in September. And another point which many people will be very happy indeed to see: the return of personal named GP/patient allocated relationships,’ Equality Rights Group (ERG)/Action on Poverty (AOP) was able to reveal from its recent meeting with Prof. Patrick Geoghegan, Director General of the GHA.

‘It’s also good to see positive rapport on how present health and poverty issues interact in our community,’ Chair Felix Alvarez said following the discussions. ‘These, along with other issues of concern are the kind of important questions that we concentrate on and specialise in because they touch people’s lives across all sectors of our community and which make a real long-lasting difference.

‘Fruit of that fluid relationship is the vital dialogue maintained in relation to the management of the Monkeypox threat and also vulnerability and hardship in the community as reflected in health policies and practices. All core issues that Charles Trico, Secretary and Lyana Armstrong-Emery, AOP Coordinator ably engaged on.

Mr. Trico added that ERG/AOP ‘in its leading, long-term and proven serious work on behalf of the LGBT+ community in Gibraltar, has been able to achieve a level of discussion and open information with Dr. Helen Carter, Director of Public Health, which signals an important and healthy approach to effective management of the Monkeypox virus locally.

‘It has been gratifying to input into the various issues which have arisen, and delivery of the smallpox vaccine effected by Dr. Carter has been a welcome step in preventative medicine for which the community now has both a Helpline and an email for information on how to register for the smallpox vaccine or simply to field specific questions. But above all, in the strictest confidentiality.

‘Additionally, on the issues that concern us on the Action on Poverty side,’ Lyana Armstrong-Emery continued, ‘we were particularly interested in discussions with Prof. Geoghegan as Director General of the GHA in relation to the reports we have been receiving as regards the everyday implementation of changes to the prescriptions policy recently put in place by government.

‘It is designed to be exercised with a degree of nuance in order to properly ensure that the poor, in hardship and vulnerable are not medically and economically disadvantaged. We discussed concerns that individual doctors may be blanket interpreting the policy and withdrawing medications from individuals who are often elderly, housebound, lacking in mobility and otherwise in difficult situations.

‘This could be a consequence of the new prescriptions policy focusing on medications which, in the language of the policy itself, are ‘non life threatening’; but removal of which in specific cases may still have a huge impact on a person’s quality of life. For an elderly affected person this is no small deal, and the nuance should not be missed!

‘Just one example relates to individuals who, following removal of pain-relief medications for knee problems, can no longer easily walk to their bathroom, let alone anywhere else. If the policy is interpreted out of context, medically or economically vulnerable people could end up in very real difficulties as a result of now having to pay for the removed medication from their own pocket, which is a further harm to an already dire personal economy. And the eventual upshot of this is that people currently able to live independently in their own homes may inevitably lose that independence and need to rely on a care home. That cannot be what the policy envisaged. It in fact reverses the good financial management aim behind the new prescriptions policy since it would incur greater costs for the system.

‘What’s making matters worse,’ Ms. Armstrong-Emery continued, ‘is that we have been receiving reports that certain pharmacies are now saying they are no longer bringing in pain-relieving (but ‘non life threatening’) items on the basis that government has now ‘excluded them’. We have asked Prof. Geoghegan to kindly investigate the veracity of this matter for what it may imply.

In closing, Mr. Alvarez stated that ‘Government’s new prescriptions policy, applied correctly and in context, makes sense in eliminating unnecessary excess. And my colleagues Charles and Lyana raised important related points. Not least of which, and very importantly, was the discussion of best, most simplified approaches to ensuring the vulnerable are able to overcome what may be medically inappropriate limitations on blanket prescription practices impacting them. The matter should be raised with the relevant GP and, where appropriate, the District Nurse for guidance in appealing a decision considered inappropriate and may be subject to means testing to ensure correct decisions are made. As an alternative, ERG/AOP can be contacted so that we may raise the matter directly.

‘We were glad to share our concerns with GHA management and to continue our productive engagement as we proceed.

‘Good working relationships come out of experience and professionalism, and these qualities have been mutually abundant in our on-going and welcome dialogue with both Patrick Geoghegan and Helen Carter.’