Government officials of the British overseas territory, located at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, are “extremely concerned” over the rules applied to ambulances transferring patients to Spanish hospitals, which are now being classified in the same way as commercial vehicles. The drivers of these are since Brexit required to register their employment status in the European Union.
Following reports of ambulances being denied entry at the Spanish border, the Gibraltar government said ambulance transfers between territories have to be made by staff residing in Spain.
It added: “In addition to this, they will need a Spanish contract of employment and this will also apply to everyone within the ambulance with the exception of the patient.
“Spain will only allow GHA staff resident in Gibraltar to convey a patient to Spain if it is a matter of life or death, the clinician in the ambulance (Paramedic or Doctor) provides evidence on the condition of the patient, and this will also have to be done with prior warning to the frontier Spanish authorities.”
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Despite exceptions being made “for emergency patients in ‘life or death’ situations, when GHA [Gibraltar Health Authority] staff residents in Gibraltar will be able to carry out the transfer”, Gibraltar has called for an urgent review of the rules.
The government pleaded: “Given that the issue at stake is the health of citizens, and the potential for life or death situations to emerge, the Government is extremely concerned at these developments and have already raised the matter at a higher level both with the United Kingdom and with Spain.”
The issue is one among a series of subjects still in the air because of London and Madrid’s failure to reach a deal on Gibraltar’s new relationship with the EU after the territory was left out of the main Brexit deal between the UK and the bloc.
The goal is to ultimately draft an EU-UK treaty based on a deal struck between the UK and Spain at the end of 2020 that, while not legally binding, allowed Gibraltar to become part of the Schengen passport-free area with the sponsorship of Madrid.
Elliott Phillips, Shadow Minister for Health & Environment, said: “Either it is an example of poor planning at best or sheer incompetence at worst that the Government has not been able to make provision for sick and vulnerable people requiring medical treatment in Spain.
“Brexit has challenged us all, but it cannot be right that the transit of our patients for medical services and treatment has been prevented or delayed by red tape at the border.”
He added: “We ask why the Government has not foreseen this or put in place contingencies in place to minimise the impact on patients.
“We call on the Government to issue an immediate statement reassuring the public that no patient transiting across the border by ambulance for medical treatment in Spain will be refused entry or experience delay.
“The Government must do all it can to take the matter up with its Spanish counterparts immediately to resolve the problem.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega