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Demonstrators gather to protest over claims of discrimination against medical centre

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People gathered by the City Hall car park to protest against what they say is unfair treatment of the Hamilton Medical Centre by health officials (Photograph by Akil Simmons).

About 50 demonstrators marched on the Cabinet building yesterday to protest what they claim is discrimination by health officials.

Patients of the Hamilton Medical Centre say that a decision by the Bermuda Health Council to deny the clinic the right to offer services under the standard health benefit — which would give FutureCare and HIP patients coverage for diagnostic services — is discriminatory.

The clinic, which is run by physician J J Soares, recently brought in state-of-the-art MRI scanning equipment.

The continuing dispute has been going through the courts since 2019, when the clinic made an application for SHB.

According to written court judgments, the BHeC refused the application after concerns were raised that the new facility would result in an increased number of diagnostic scans and that there was a risk of self-referrals.

The Supreme Court overturned that ruling, but the BHeC appealed. The Court of Appeal has now ruled that the council should review the application.

This morning’s protest started on Wesley Street. Carrying placards with messages such as “Politics is making us sick” and “The health council is failing the people”, protesters led by Dr Soares marched through Hamilton, pausing at the offices of the Ministry of Health on Burnaby Street before heading to the Cabinet grounds.

One demonstrator, Stephen Thomson, said: “I believe in choice. I want to be able to go to whichever medical facility I choose to go to. Don’t force me to go to the hospital or to another place.

“Dr Soares’ technology is brand new — wide-bore MRI machines. So for people who are claustrophobic, that’s a big benefit.

“Secondly, if that’s my physician, I want to get stuff done in one place. He has the facility. As long as his prices are reasonable, why limit me?

“Competition lowers prices. But why would you limit competition? I don’t understand the benefit of limiting competition unless you’re arbitrarily helping other businesses.”

Samuel Johansen, another patient at the clinic, added: “I don’t understand why Dr Soares has not been granted standard health benefit approval by the Bermuda Health Council for HIP and FutureCare patients like me. It’s not right. It’s very unjust that he’s being treated like this.”

Before setting out, Dr Soares said that the march was necessary because “we’re not getting anywhere”.

He told The Royal Gazette: “I’ve been in discussions proper with the health council since 2016. An official application was made in 2019 and they keep giving us the runaround.

“We took the matter to the Supreme Court and we won. They said that the health council was unfair to us and they granted us SHB. The health council later decided to try and overturn that decision by taking it to the Court of Appeal.

“We have Bermuda’s latest technology, therefore the safest technology available, and 96 per cent of our scans done are from outside referrals.

“There’s a huge issue around safety here. Older, radiation-emitting equipment emits far more radiation than newer equipment.

“Really the machines built 15 years ago simply did not have the technology efficiency. We’ve been banging our heads on the wall for a number of years. We have some 3,500 signatures of people who are unhappy. My patients are very unhappy and they said that we should do something about it. That’s why we’re here today.”

Once at the Cabinet building, the group was met by Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, and David Burt, the Premier.

Ms Wilson read out a statement she issued yesterday in which she claimed that she could not comment on the matter because it was under review.

She added that it was “regretful” that allegations of discrimination had been made, and pointed out that SHB approvals were granted by the Bermuda Health Council, not the Ministry of Health.

Responding to that claim, Dr Soares said that there was “a legal avenue” for the health minister to overturn a council decision.

He said: “The fact that the health council is excluding or blocking newer technologies which are safer from entering the island and choosing to enshrine and protect those that are already here is a public safety issue.

“When it’s a public safety issue, when it’s unfair to a citizen in Bermuda, then the minister may with consultation to the health council make recommendations to the health council and those recommendations will be given effect.

“So there’s a clear legal avenue and the reason we’re doing this is because it’s falling on deaf ears.

“Today’s protest shows that Bermudians are frustrated and angry. HIP and FutureCare patients want to be able to use a safe, state-of-the-art facility on the island and it’s not fair that they could be potentially denied access to it in the future.

“It is a shame that the minister has chosen to bring race into this issue as that has never been one of our complaints. The fact that she has dismissed our concerns as racial perhaps underscores that she has misunderstood our concerns entirely.

“We are not asking for anything new; we just want to be given the same licence as other imaging facilities on the island. HIP and FutureCare patients can access imaging services at other facilities but many of those options have waiting lists and don’t offer a walk-in service.

“We look forward to our latest application being dealt with fairly and without bias by the Health Council and continuing to provide the kind of healthcare service that all Bermudians deserve.”

For more pictures of the demonstration click here.

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Published June 01, 2022 at 4:45 pm (Updated June 01, 2022 at 4:45 pm)

Demonstrators gather to protest over claims of discrimination against medical centre

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