Soares set to open walk-in scanning facility
A doctor who joined forces with former premier Ewart Brown to threaten legal action against the Government over a cut in medical scan fees is to open a new clinic to provide MRI and CT imaging.
JJ Soares warned last year that plans for the walk-in centre on Burnaby Street might have to be scrapped because of the fee reductions imposed by the former One Bermuda Alliance administration.
However, he told The Royal Gazette in an e-mail that a pledge by the Government to increase the fees meant the project would go ahead. Dr Soares said: “Our plans to open the walk-in/urgent care centre on Burnaby Street in Hamilton are moving forward and nearing completion.
“It will operate seven days a week, open from 6.45am to 10pm, and will offer access to all diagnostics, including MRI, CT, ultrasound, X-ray, mammography and cardiac diagnostics, as well as blood testing.”
He added: “It is our understanding that the previous drastic and unsustainable cuts to reimbursement for MRI and CT scans are in the process of being revised upwards by the current government.”
Dr Soares sent a letter to the Government threatening legal action regarding the fee cuts last October, along with Dr Brown.
Their complaint was that the reductions, recommended by the Bermuda Health Council to reduce healthcare costs, would hit their businesses.
A lawsuit was avoided after the Cabinet approved compensation of $600,000 for Dr Brown's two medical practices, Bermuda Healthcare Services in Paget and the Brown-Darrell Clinic in Smith's.
The Ministry of Health said the “financial supplements” paid to Dr Brown's clinics, and a supplement of $1.8 million to the Bermuda Hospitals Board, were granted “in order to help ensure CT and MRI services are readily available to the public”.
The ministry made the statement the same day Dr Brown announced he would close the CT scan unit at the Brown-Darrell clinic at the end of January this year. A disclosure by the Ministry of Health under public access to information revealed that Dr Soares, unlike Dr Brown, did not receive compensation from the public purse.
The Pati release included an e-mail from Jennifer Attride-Stirling, the health permanent secretary, to Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, on January 23 this year, which contained draft responses to media questions.
Dr Attride-Stirling wrote: “The ministry can confirm that a letter before action was received in relation to the fee levels. However, as the matter was settled via legal counsel, details about the particulars of the action will not be provided.
“ ... One other practice joined Dr Brown in the letter before action. There was no grounds to that claim.”
Dr Soares declined to comment on his claim and referred questions to his lawyer, Jerome Lynch QC, who said: “Dr Soares does not yet have an MRI or CT scanning service, so no claim for losses as yet arise from a cut in fees, although the Bermuda Health Council are well aware of the doctor's plans.
“He is understandably concerned about the appearance of arbitrary action by them that may affect those plans and will do whatever is necessary to ensure the people of Bermuda are not denied the best value medical service for political reasons.
“The Government are once again considering a fair fee structure which we anticipated being published on October 1. We remain optimistic that good sense will prevail.”
An earlier Pati disclosure showed that Dr Soares met with Ms Wilson on September 13 last year to discuss the new urgent care centre. A record held by the Ministry of Health about the meeting said he asked the minister to “support the project as it will provide an extension of needed service after hours and during weekends. But the UCC will only work if he has the full range of diagnostic services.
“He asks if the minister can't endorse it to at least not put anything in place that will thwart it.”
The note added: “The minister thanked him for the presentation, noting the issue with MRI and CT fees remains a pending issue.”
Dr Soares also told Ms Wilson the fees for MRIs were not high enough.
The note said he “estimated the cost impact of his MRI, the electricity bill alone will be $17,000 per month, so a $450 fee for a brain MRI is just not enough. There are staggering costs associated with it.”
Dr Soares told The Royal Gazette his new clinic would offer Bermuda's only “truly open” MRI unit.
He said it would help claustrophobic and obese patients and would reduce patient wait times for an MRI or CT scan. Dr Soares added: “We will offer appointments for MRI, CT and other diagnostics on a ‘walk-in' basis when possible and certainly within a few days of request. Currently, the wait time for an MRI or CT at the hospital is anywhere from two to four weeks. We believe that the Bermuda public deserves better and we plan to deliver.”
The GP added: “Urgent care patients will be able to walk in and be seen without any appointment for a mere fraction of what it costs to be seen at the emergency department, thereby saving healthcare dollars.”
A BHB spokeswoman said the present wait time was less than two weeks for planned, elective CT scans at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. She added: “Emergency referrals are not subject to a wait time and are undertaken as needed.”
• To view the Pati extract, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”
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