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Doctor claims politics could be behind SHB refusal

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JJ Soares, the medical director at the Hamilton Medical Centre, provides feedback on a Court of Appeal interim ruling (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A doctor today claimed it was “a possibility” that politics was behind the Bermuda Health Council’s refusal to give him Standard Health Benefit status.

JJ Soares also said he worried that the island was moving towards a system where the Government is the sole provider of healthcare.

He was speaking after Court of Appeal judges made an interim ruling last month that the BHeC should consider his application to provide services under the SHB – a base package of mandated health benefits.

Sir Christopher Clarke, the appeal court president, said that the “tortuous history of the various applications” needed to end.

From left, Allan Martin, Samuel Johansen and JJ Soares. Dr Soares is the medical director of the Hamilton Medical Centre. His patients, Mr Martin and Mr Johansen, supported his attempts to secure Standard Health Benefit status from the Bermuda Health Council (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Dr Soares, the Hamilton Medical Centre’s medical director, claimed yesterday: “Bermudians know what’s going on here and it’s surely not right.

“I’ve been fighting a system that does not want HIP and FutureCare patients to have a choice in who delivers their healthcare – or any patient for that matter – for it to be accessible in a timely manner and a system that continues to reward the monopolies of certain providers.

“HIP and FutureCare patients already find access to healthcare and their prescriptions difficult enough.

“Excluding our centre from providing services to them even further limits their options.

“I am calling on Government and the health council to put an end to perpetuating medical services monopolies that exist here; approve my full year application; and include us in any new health plan going forward so that HIP and FutureCare patients, and indeed all Bermudians, can continue to have access to the very best and most up-to-date services provided by HMC Burnaby Urgent Care and Medical Imaging.”

He added: “We look forward to our latest application being dealt with fairly and without bias by the health council … ”

HMC is listed on the health council’s website among several diagnostic imaging providers with SHB status. A court ruled last spring that its application should be approved.

Dr Soares said that apart from the hospital, there were only two other providers “under common ownership” that offered MRI and CT scans – Bermuda HealthCare Services and the Brown-Darrell Clinic respectively.

The practices were founded by Ewart Brown, a former Progressive Labour Party premier, who is their executive chairman.

Dr Soares said: “People say … ‘you know what this is about, it’s all political’.”

Asked if he believed that the decision not to approve the HMC’s application was political, he replied: “I believe it’s a possibility.”

Dr Soares added that he thought there were “many factors” involved in the BHeC’s refusal.

In 2019 the HMC applied for permission to offer services under the SHB – which would allow FutureCare or HIP patients coverage for diagnostic services.

But the BHeC refused the application because it said it was concerned that the clinic would “self-refer” patients and provide unnecessary treatments.

Dr Soares challenged the decision, but a BHeC appeal panel upheld the refusal in September 2020.

Dr Soares appealed the decision to the Supreme Court on the ground the BHeC had acted unfairly and unreasonably.

Puisne Judge Larry Mussenden quashed the BHeC decision in April and ordered the approval of Dr Soares’s application.

But the BHeC went to the Court of Appeal in a bid to have Mr Justice Mussenden’s ruling set aside.

Sir Christopher said on November 19 that the BHeC should consider the latest application.

The case is expected to return to court for any orders to be made after the health council reaches a decision.

Dr Soares said that the HMC brought the latest technology to Bermuda and offered scans on a same or next day basis upon referral from a physician.

He added: “The Government also has aspirations of developing a medical tourism product here and the encouragement of modern facilities such as mine is exactly what international patients will expect and demand.

“Unfortunately the health council is moving this island towards a closed system of providers."

Dr Soares said: “I do worry because it seems that Bermuda’s moving towards … a socialised medicine model with the Government being a single provider.

“I don’t want to be cute, but does it reassure anyone in this room that any Bermuda Government – PLP, UBP [United Bermuda Party] or OBA [One Bermuda Alliance] – will be solely in charge of your healthcare dollar and decide where you go, whether you get it paid for, etc?”

The doctor was joined by patients Allan Martin and Samuel Johansen.

Mr Johansen said: “I’m begging the council to give Dr Soares and his medical centre the OK that he can go on and offer his services to all the people of Bermuda.”

Mr Martin said: “This is a first-class facility. Why would you want to have something other than that?

“I can’t figure it out, but I know it’s political."

A health council spokeswoman said: “Dr Soares and the HMC have sought approvals through a pending application with the health council.

“We have no public comment regarding this application or its associated process.”

The Government was also contacted for comment.

* To read Dr Soares’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.