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Doctor dismisses talk of strike action by GPs

Remuneration presentation: Ricky Brathwaite, acting CEO of the Bermuda Health Council and director of health economics (Photograph taken from BHeC website)

A doctor has dismissed the idea that general practitioners were considering strike action.

The doctor, who asked not to be named, said that the possibility of job action “was not mentioned at all” at a closed-door meeting held at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital last night.

She added: “I would be very, very surprised if it ever was.”

However, two physicians, who requested not to be identified, earlier suggested that GPs were ready to protest against “heavy-handed tactics” by the Bermuda Health Council.

The doctor said that about 30 to 40 doctors had turned out for the meeting. She said that Ricky Brathwaite, the acting chief executive of the BHeC and its director of health economics, made a presentation to attendees about different healthcare remuneration models.

The doctor added: “This is just the start of the conversation.”

She said that Dr Brathwaite’s presentation was at first received well by attendees.

But she added: “It’s getting a little heated now.”

The doctor said that the current relationship between doctors and the BHeC was “better than it has been”.

But she added: “We live in worrying times.

“We all understand that things are getting difficult as the number of insured adults falls. There’s just not going to be enough money to look after people. We are going to need to change the way we deliver healthcare.”

The doctor said that island GPs were being “squeezed” by the cost of doing business.

She added: “It’s no different than any other people living in Bermuda. It’s uncertain and worrying.”

Sources earlier said that GPs were ready to “go on strike” over restrictions imposed by the BHeC.

In particular, doctors were described as being “up in arms” over a proposal by the independent monitoring group for doctor’s visits to provide end-of-life care to be capped at $20 per month per patient under the Standard Health Benefit.

The proposal was revealed at a meeting last week, it is understood, although sources said that nothing official had been shared with physicians.

That move was “the final straw” in the council’s “unilateral” approach to regulating healthcare, one source said.

The source added: “This is just an example of how they do things. We will stand together on this; we are not going to take it — if needs be, we will go on a general strike.”

But the doctor said that the topic had not been raised at the meeting.

She said: “We didn’t even talk about end-of-life care.”

Dr Brathwaite, in a statement sent before last night’s meeting, said that it would be “inaccurate and lacking context” to say that the BHeC had put forth a proposal to cap physician payment.

He added: “In addition, we are not looking to change the end-of-life care benefit that we feel is so valuable to our community.

“Unfortunately, wherever this information came from is inaccurate and hopefully unintentionally misinterpreted.”

Dr Brathwaite said that the BHeC had a “very productive relationship with all health providers, including physicians”.

He added: “The BHeC is continuing to ask physicians how we can best include more primary care and prevention for all into our accessible health system.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said yesterday that it had been in “active dialogue” with stakeholders about reform to Bermuda’s health financing system.

She added: “End-of-life care has not been addressed specifically, but we are pleased that hospice and home palliative care is already covered as a Standard Health Benefit under the current minimum insurance package.

“This benefit is not under discussion.”

The spokeswoman said the ministry would be in a position to share more details on health financing reform “in the coming months”.