[WATCH] Strike provoked by expired collective agreement hits hard on autistic child

Heartfelt plea from mother of Diego, whose Facebook livestream details problems of denied speech therapy to her son

Sefora Tabone makes her point on Facebook
Sefora Tabone makes her point on Facebook

Health unions issued go-slow directives for hospital and public clinic staff due to an expired collective agreement on Tuesday, but the reality of the government’s intransigence on salaries was revealed by one mother’s desperate plea on Facebook.

Sefora Tabone, mother of Diego, a child with autism, turned up for an appointment for her son’s speech therapy – booked two weeks earlier – at the Paola polyclinic, only to be informed after much waiting that no therapy was being offered due to industrial action.

The mother was angry at having had to take her son to a public clinic, potentially exposing him to patients with COVID-19 symptoms, only to be told after knocking on the therapist’s door that strike action had cancelled all sessions.

 “It was hard parking. It was hard negotiating the August heat. It was hard enough holding his hand to stop him from walking off. Or making him keep the facemask off. We’re waiting with people who could have COVID-19 symptoms… why are children who need speech therapy have to wait with such patients?

“And finally when after waiting we got to the therapist’s office, we’re told of the industrial directives… couldn’t they call? I got no message. The kid wanted the session… we prepared for it for four days… but we had to be sent out.”

The mother pleaded that children had suffered during the pandemic by missing out on school, and now children like hers were being denied therapy sessions under such trying conditions. “Why are we punishing blameless children? The most vulnerable are suffering. If there is a problem between the government and the union, they must sit down and talk it out. But don’t punish those without blame.”

Allied health professionals from the Union Haddiema Maqghudin launched industrial directives over an expired collective agreement. These comprise audiologists, biomedical scientists, dental hygienists and technologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, radiographers and speech language pathologists.

“Despite a collective agreement having expired three years ago, the government is stamping its feet with these frontliners by not giving pay increases and better conditions meritorious of their professional roles. These people have been a major pillar in our health service, and the lack of a collective agreement for them means they suffer conditions last applied to them seven years ago.”

The actions started Tuesday and included the postponement of non-urgent operations; go-slow directives for radiographers in the emergency department; CT scans, MRIs and theatres were shut down except for emergencies; and blood testing was not processed except for an emergency or for COVID-19 swabs.

Podiatrists only provided urgent services in hospitals and primary care; occupational therapists did not see new patients or offer home visits; patients with dysphagia and swallowing problems were referred to casualty while speech therapy was stopped except for first-case visits; hearing tests were stopped and physiotherapists will only see respiratory cases.

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