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Bermuda’s population health on ‘unsustainable trajectory’

Anna Van Poucke, the global head of healthcare at KPMG, who spoke at the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce 2024 Annual General Meeting. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A public-private partnership can steer the health of the island’s population from an “unsustainable trajectory”, a health expert warned yesterday.

During a presentation at the Hamilton Princess at the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce annual meeting, Anna Van Poucke, global head of healthcare at KPMG, suggested that the chamber should use its clout to promote a public-private partnership to achieve universal healthcare on the island.

Universal healthcare is a key pledge of the Progressive Labour Party government — although Kim Wilson, the health minister, has stated it would take years to put in place.

Dr Van Poucke told the meeting: “It needs to be a mission of all of you.

“It is going to be hard at times, but you got to find each other, support each other and lead that nation together and move the needle from what potentially could be an old and sick island to a healthy productive island.

“We don’t want to see public and private as enemies,” she said as she noted the chamber’s role as a “very strong anchor for the Bermudian society”.

She added:“ I realise the people who are responsible can’t do it alone. You need to be in it together.”

Dr Van Poucke, an 11-year veteran with KPMG, suggested that Bermuda could follow India’s example in achieving universal heathcare coverage.

Within four years, the authorities there were able to move health coverage from 30 per cent to 75 per cent of the country’s population.

“That’s a real achievement,” she said.

“One of the most important things that they did, they created a national mission and that national mission was Healthy India, and it met and it was very heavily reliable on private-public partnerships, working together to make it possible.”

She said India created hundreds of centres for primary and community healthcare as well as new hospitals serving its districts.

The country’s healthcare workforce also received extra training “so that they could address early interventions and early diagnosis”.

Given Bermuda’s small population, she said a similar target could be achieved.

In her synopsis on the island’s population health, Dr Van Poucke said: “I was quite worried when I saw the health situation in Bermuda.”

She said the latest figures showed 70 per cent of the population reported being overweight, 50 per cent said they are obese and another 50 per cent had at least one chronic disease diagnosed.

“The fact that you have so many people here with weight problems is going to increase the need to care for them pretty substantially.”

She noted the health risks for an elderly population but added: “As long as they are healthy, it is the unhealthy population that is going to be the main burden.

“It’s going to be more diabetes, more chronic diseases, more renal failure and kidney treatments.”

Dr Van Poucke said there is a “competitive market” globally for healthcare workers and with Bermuda’s declining population, the island’s healthcare system would be affected.

She said healthcare staff were working “incredibly hard” and care needed to be taken in addressing the island’s workforce numbers.

According to Dr Van Poucke, in 15 years one in three Bermudians will be over 65 — and that with the island’s birthrates falling, the ratio of healthcare workers to the ageing population would be halved.

She suggested measures to strengthen Bermuda’s healthcare system for universal coverage, and “not by throwing more and more money”.

“You need to start rethinking your healthcare infrastructure, you need to start rethinking integrated care.”

Dr Van Poucke said KPMG has been assisting a number of countries in introducing universal healthcare coverage, including the United Arab Emirates, the Bahamas, Jamaica and India.

Globally, she said, questions have been asked about whether the world’s healthcare systems were “back to normal” after the pandemic.

She said the question asked was whether the pandemic “being a big crisis, is the crisis now gone, are we back to normal and are we sustainable and strong again — and the answer to that was a very clear no”.

Dr Van Poucke said healthcare systems were already facing challenges from workforce shortages and staff burnout to disrupted supply chains.

“There are a number of countries are severely suffering from the fact that they can’t get medication in because supply chains are not good any more.”

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Published April 18, 2024 at 7:55 am (Updated April 18, 2024 at 8:06 am)

Bermuda’s population health on ‘unsustainable trajectory’

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