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Doctors feel ‘targeted’ by healthcare reforms

Tawanna Wedderburn, Bermuda Health Council chief executive (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Doctors have branded a raft of reworked legislative proposals aimed at regulating healthcare providers as “heavy handed” and say that the reform measures unfairly target their profession.

The Bermuda Health Council recently published the proposed changes to the Bermuda Health Council Amendment Act 2016 on its website after what it described as “unprecedented consultation”.

The council’s chief executive, Tawanna Wedderburn, told The Royal Gazette that the council had listened and acted on concerns raised by physicians in formulating the amended legislation that goes before MPs on Monday.

“There have been several changes to the original Act as a result of feedback from physicians, specifically removing the need for doctors to get permission from the council to self refer,” she said.

“The Health Council has engaged in extensive consultation over the years incorporating feedback into the proposed legislation. It met with all statutory bodies and professional associations between 2010 and 2014. It met with physicians four times between July and October 2015.

“In July 2016 it hosted meeting with physicians where over 50 attended. Between July and September 2016 the council held seven working group meetings and met with Bermuda Medical Council, Bermuda Dental Board, and Council for Allied Health Professionals.”

But physicians have written to MPs and Cabinet questioning whether the council has listened to their recommendations and reinforcing their opposition to the changes.

They have also raised concerns about the severe punishments, including imprisonment, proposed in the legislation and accused the council of using a “sledgehammer approach” to limit the advanced technologies that can be made available on the island by prohibiting their importation.

One doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The Bermuda Health Council has not addressed the issues surrounding healthcare in Bermuda in a systematic and analytical process but has instead undertaken a piecemeal approach that is a hindrance to the overall system.

“The tone and content of the proposed document is clearly one directed specifically towards physicians in spite of the statement BHC saying otherwise.

“The largest expenditure to the health system is the hospital and this entity is not addressed. When administrative personnel make rules and regulations to the healthcare system then there is chaos.”

The 2016 Act enables the Health Council to grant permission to health service providers to make financially vested referrals, license health service providers and grant permission for entry of high-risk medical technology. It was initially withdrawn from the House of Assembly in July to allow for further consultation that culminated in the changes being publicised on October 31.

In a letter that has been sent to Cabinet, a group of six physicians who formed a working group during the consultation process, maintain that the Health Council has ignored their recommendations and formed policies off poorly collected data.

A further letter from one doctor states: “The Act, if passed, will influence counter to its positive intentions and be a long-term detriment to healthcare delivery in Bermuda. It will limit access to healthcare technology, drive the cost of investigations higher and virtually eliminate competition — resulting in mediocre service.

“Most of us feel that this legislation targets, and is overly oppressive, to private healthcare facilities.”

But Ms Wedderburn maintained that the Health Council had done everything it could to consult widely and ensure that patients’ interests were protected. She further stated that the proposed legislation did cover the hospital.

“There are a lot of physicians that support this legislation,” she said. “We keep hearing from a select few who are against it.

“Others in the medical community support it and the public has also been supportive. I would challenge anyone who is objecting to enhancing patient protection to be very clear why.”