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Medical tourists are displacing residents at KEMH doctor claims

Patients need to brace themselves for longer waiting times for surgery as they are “pushed aside” to make room for Americans undergoing the new prostate cancer treatment.

This is the view of a medical practitioner who knows of at least one surgery being cancelled and another delayed due to High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

Shadow Health Minister Louise Jackson believes this is just “the tip of the iceberg” as hundreds of patients head to the Island for the treatment in the hospital's small number of operating rooms.

The prostate cancer treatment unavailable in the United States has brought 200 “medical tourists” as well as their families and doctors to the Island since being made available nine months ago.

This is said to have generated a total of 1,000 bed nights for local hotels. The controversial treatment is yet to be endorsed by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Details about the delayed and cancelled operations were revealed to

The Royal Gazette just days after Mrs Jackson asked Health Minister Zane DeSilva in the House of Assembly whether any surgeries had been delayed or cancelled due to HIFU. Minister DeSilva said categorically that the answer was no.

Mr DeSilva and Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) both reiterated yesterday that no surgeries had been re-arranged as “surgical time is allocated to HIFU weeks in advance”.

But the medical practitioner, who did not want to be named, has come forward to say that on January 14 an emergency C-Section was delayed and another hernia surgery was cancelled “while HIFU went on uninhibited”.

The practitioner said HIFU surgeries started at 8am that day at the inconvenience of patients and medics who had surgeries listed.

The practitioner said: “My case was cancelled completely because of the delay associated with HIFU patients being operated and later it was discovered that there were no hospital beds. It is being denied, but this is happening.

“I want to set the record straight as this information should not be withheld. The patients of Bermuda are suffering, they are being pushed aside, there's not enough room.”

The Royal Gazette has seen an e-mail the practitioner sent to the hospital's bosses explaining the details of what unfolded in KEMH's operating theatres that day.

Opposition MP Mrs Jackson said: “This just isn't good enough, we have found out that physicians' cases have been pushed out, delayed or actually cancelled.

“I certainly believe there are many more examples, this isn't a one-off, it's the tip of the iceberg. But we may never know how many other cases were delayed or cancelled.

“It should not be allowed. Bermudians are being shunted aside as profit is being put first.”

Through a device called Sonablate (R) 500, HIFU works by destroying prostatic tissue through extreme heat, produced from focused ultrasound waves. It is described as a “minimally-invasive” prostate cancer treatment.

US HIFU is a private health care company based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It says that compared to other therapies such as surgery or radiation, HIFU has less significant side effects. Already, more than 30 countries have medical facilities which use the technology.

Mrs Jackson believes hospital bosses introduced the new surgery “shrouded in secrecy” and accused them of continuing to “cover things up”.

She said: “I am very disappointed that [BHB] would have experimental surgery which is not approved by the FTA.

“I find it reprehensible that Bermuda should put overseas patients first.

“The Ministry of Health denied categorically that Bermuda surgeries would be delayed or cancelled and this is obviously not the truth. I will be expecting an apology from the Ministry of Health and [BHB].

“They are very good at giving out misinformation.”

Mrs Jackson added that waiting lists were long enough as it was as islanders were already having to wait “a month or more” for life-saving procedures.

She added: “This does not look good for waiting lists. I want to see the best done for Bermuda people as far as health care is concerned, particularly at the hospital.”

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said Mr DeSilva stood by his statement in the House of Assembly that “no surgeries have been cancelled due to HIFU”.

She said: “Surgeries may be cancelled for various reasons, but none have been cancelled at KEMH because of HIFU.

“The Board confirmed that they have reviewed their records for the time in question and talked to staff, and repeat that HIFU has not caused a cancellation of any procedure.”

The BHB said patient safety remained their top priority and any medical practitioner concerned about postponed or cancelled surgery should contact the hospital immediately.

A hospital spokeswoman said: “Surgeries are not being cancelled, especially not emergency surgeries.

“Surgical time is allocated to HIFU weeks in advance, and there are no last-minute surprises or cancellations.

“Emergency surgery is, by its nature, critical and would never be cancelled for either a visiting or local elective procedure. No complaint regarding an emergency cancellation has been received. This would be viewed extremely seriously.”

She denied that it was ‘experimental surgery' saying: “It is proven and available in Canada and Europe and is in the final stages of clinical trials in the US.”

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Published March 21, 2011 at 10:14 am (Updated March 21, 2011 at 10:13 am)

Medical tourists are displacing residents at KEMH doctor claims

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