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community On the Rock we have a system in place where appointments and arrangements are made for patients to travel to their particular hospital or clinic. The GHA runs a well oiled Sponsored Patients Department (I’ve experienced it myself a few times) whose personnel are very helpful. Flights are booked and paid for by the department and expense allowances are provided. There is also a limited amount of accommodation for patients and escorts at Calpe House in Bayswater in London (a home from home for Gibraltarians), but often hotel accommodation needs to be sought adding to the general expenses and of course, the money available to the department is limited. That’s where compassionate and caring individuals come to the fore. About eight years ago the Gibraltar Community Association was formed to help with a little extra cash for those in most need. “It all started when I was approached by George Posso, who used to help out in the Youth Service when I was working there,” the Association’s main man, Robert Balban explains. “When I retired we got a group going to see how we could help those going abroad for treatment. We started raising funds with bed marathons, bingo nights and some other activities and soon word spread. In our first year we assisted 26 patients.” Today, they have just under 600 members who pay £5 a year subscription fee and one or two private donations, plus donations from the GBC Open Day and other support groups and organisations. A GCA flag day is also held annually. Robert was Senior Youth Worker in charge of the Gibraltar Youth Service for a number of years, so his experience in dealing with members of the community came in handy when he took on this task. “Now we have a hard working committee led by our Chairman Alfred Rumbo and myself, and we have this small office where we can meet prospective clients. I remember at first we would meet patients in a hospital waiting room, Morrison’s cafeteria and other places where it became very awkward trying to have a private conversation. “Most of the people who come to see us are in need of some assistance. They will come on their own or with a relative or friend and talk to us. We then refer to the Sponsored Patients’ Department with whom we work really well, compare notes and usually everything is in order and we provide some financial help.

“It’s not always possible to stay at Calpe House so nearby hotels are suggested to them by the department and ourselves and there too, although the Sponsored Patients’ Department gives them an allowance towards that, it’s usually not enough. London is very expensive these days and food and other expenses have to be met. Sometimes their stay in the UK is longer than first thought and it all adds up. “The Association’s involvement with the community has been increasing year on year. In 2005, for example, there were 26 assisted patients and in 2012 there were 118. In total, during all those years, we’ve helped 527 individuals,” he states. Pretty good going! But the association is not just there to provide financial assistance. It is continually monitoring the Sponsored Patients’ Scheme to see where

Members of the Gibraltar Community Association are doing all they can to assist our sick who need to travel and they deserve a great big warm pat on the back

improvements are needed. “Since 2007 quite a number of allowances have been increased and we feel we’ve helped in some small way to achieve those improvements in the system,” says Robert. Allowances for patients and escorts have been increased from £266 to £427 per week, for instance. Older couples with very little knowledge of London who speak little English now travel to Calpe House or hospital in a taxi straight from the airport and are returned to the airport the same way and don’t have to experience the inconvenience of chasing trains and other taxis to get to their destination. Petrol allowances have doubled for patients travelling to Spain when using their own vehicle. An extra airfare has been introduced for patients aged up to 16 so that both parents can travel with them (in the past the allowance only

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applied to children up to age six). And there are other improvements thanks to sympathetic ministers, the GHA and the Gibraltar Community Association who continue pressing the Health Authority for more improvements. “We understand the difficulties and understand we can’t achieve everything we want, but we try to be reasonable when making these demands. For example, means testing should be abolished as it can turn out to be grossly unfair to many of the users. The system is cumbersome and bureaucratic and it’s not always easy to assess whose income should be taken into account,” Robert claims. “Sometimes an escort is a family friend or a relative and not a spouse or parent and means testing is assessed on the escort who, in good faith, has already agreed to help out and will run up expenses of his or her own. If unemployed, the escort’s spouse is then mean tested. So this is unfair also.” Robert also highlights problems with paying hotel bills and other expenses, especially when travelling to Spanish hospitals that don’t have the payment facilities afforded to patients in many UK hospitals where expenses can be reimbursed. In London patients can also go to the Gibraltar Information Office at Gibraltar House in the Strand and claim assistance there. The list goes on and slowly suggestions are taken on board and improvements introduced which all go to make life easier when on a trip which is far removed from a holiday experience. Members of the Gibraltar Community Association are doing all they can to assist our sick who need to travel and they deserve a great big warm pat on the back. Total expenditure for 2011 was £25,000 and between 2005 and 2012 the association has financially supported us to the tune of £126,000. That’s a tidy amount, and every year more and more patients are assisted — on average they’ve supported one case every three day. That means more pounds are needed to carry out the task they set out to fulfil eight years ago. You can become a member for just £5 a year. Their office is situated in the open space between the tunnels at Casemates on route to Landport and is open on Tuesdays between 4pm and 8pm. The Gibraltar Community Association’s Flag Day this year, takes place on Friday 31st May and they need some helpers. How about you? n

Adopt Don’t Buy

Give a Dog a Home If you are interested in adopting call the GSPCA on 540 19968 or 540 29927 GIBRALTAR MAGAZINE • MAY 2013

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The Gibraltar Magazine - May 2013  
The Gibraltar Magazine - May 2013  

Gibraltar's fabulous business and leisure magazine. Crammed full of great features from finance to football, from fashion to arts. Enjoy i...