The Government deeply regrets the tone of the latest newsletter issued by the Gibraltar Senior Citizens’ Association. This is sharp contrast with the close and positive working relationship that the Government and the Association have enjoyed over many years, covering a wide range of issues. This is a relationship that we value and wish to continue to enjoy.
It goes without saying that any organisation or group of individuals, is perfectly entitled to say whatever it likes in whatever manner it wishes to do so. However, it does raise questions when such comment is one-sided, breaks with the traditions of the past and when credit is not given where it is due.
It is ironic that the Newsletter should appear during the Covid-19 pandemic. People will recall the Government’s huge efforts to assist the elderly over the last few months and the gold standard support network that was put in place at this time speaks for itself. This included hundreds of free deliveries of food parcels, the distribution of prescriptions directly to pharmacies and the delivery of medication directly to the door of elderly persons. The Government also engaged with supermarkets to ensure that they established a system of home deliveries to persons over 70. An audit of persons over 70 allowed public servants and volunteers to contact senior citizens directly and establish whether they required any additional support. Thousands of such telephone calls were made.
The special consideration for our beloved elderly was reflected in the decision to issue advice that they should shield themselves and then to enforce that lockdown by legislation well before many parts of Europe. This has saved lives. The huge sacrifices made by the elderly themselves and the measures put in place by the Government, supported by the Opposition, ensured that in Gibraltar not a single life was lost at a time when thousands of elderly citizens lost their lives all over Europe. Indeed, the manner in which Gibraltar has shielded its elderly citizens from the virus has been praised by experts in other parts of Europe.
Having said that, the system has had to readjust from the Major Incident status that had been declared to a different status where things may not happen as quickly or as efficiently as the Government or service-users would like. Part of the reason for this is that many hundreds of volunteers and public servants have now returned to their normal duties.
The Senior Citizens’ Newsletter draws attention to the fact that several Government counters are still closed. However, several of these closures are expressly designed to protect the elderly who, ideally, should stay at home and avoid queuing. The risks from Covid are still present: the risk continues and should not be underestimated so the Government’s wish to protect the elderly is still relevant. On the other hand, the Government is very aware that there is room for improvement in many administrative areas and is taking steps in that direction.
Virtual alternatives and IT-based solutions are being put in place and we are working with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to help the community and, especially the elderly, to use these new systems. In fact the CAB launched a ‘Help the Elders’ campaign only yesterday.
Furthermore, the correct post-COVID telephone numbers and procedures for services at the Primary Care Centre, the DVLD and the CSRO have all been advertised and published in the print media and on social media. Additional staff have been deployed to answer telephones and to deal with back-logs in these different parts of the Government service.
The system still has some way to go but Gibraltar is moving forward to where we want to be in those areas. We are aware that people are having serious problems with several government services. We are working hard to fix those problems. But the systems are in place to protect people and the backlogs in some areas have arisen for the same reason. So although we do not consider it is acceptable for people to be having these problems, they have be put in the context of how they have arisen.