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Wilson: regulations put no personal health data at risk

Further changes are in the pipeline for the Bermuda Health Council during this parliamentary session under moves to usher in new healthcare policy.

However, Kim Wilson, the health minister, sought to allay physicians’ concerns over privacy — and defended penalties within the Bermuda Health Council Amendment Act 2024, which drew criticism from the One Bermuda Alliance.

She told The Royal Gazette: “We are not collecting personal health data; we don’t need that kind of information.

“This is aggregate data that is anonymised to gain insight into healthcare.

“Let’s say we want more information about the population suffering from diabetes in so far as the percentage of male and female, age and race. None of these will identify the patient.

“We do not want to know if Kim Wilson has type 2 diabetes. We want to know that it is a Black female, aged 61.

“As I said in Parliament, we cannot manage what we cannot measure.”

Ms Wilson said more provisions approved by Cabinet would be tabled during this term of the House of Assembly, aimed at Section 15 of the 2004 legislation that created the BHeC.

The section details ministerial powers to draw up regulations after consultation with the council, including requirements for licensed health service providers to supply “returns, statistics or other information”.

Section 15 also covers the making of “offences for any contravention of the regulations”.

Penalties in the latest legislation, passed by the House on May 3 and due to go before the Senate this month, were criticised by the Opposition for going too far.

They include a fine of $20,000, 12 months’ imprisonment, or both.

Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, renewed criticism of the penalties on Friday, when he said: “The One Bermuda Alliance believes that criminal sanctions, such as imprisonment, exist in order to punish criminal acts.

“Everyday Bermudian citizens should not be jailed for failing to provide information to the Government.”

He called it “only the latest in a series of new laws” brought by the Progressive Labour Party government that “seek to imprison people for things that are not remotely criminal”.

Mr Pearman cited the Invasive Alien Species Act 2021 imposing “up to two years in jail if you have the wrong kind of tree on your property”, and the Financial Assistance (No. 2) Act 2023 with up to six months behind bars for using “insulting language” when applying for aid.

He added: “Eleven PLP MPs abstained from voting for Premier Burt’s unjust new law.

“It is a shame those MPs did not join with the OBA to vote against it.”

Ms Wilson responded on Friday that it was “important to recognise the difference between noncompliance and ‘can’t do’”.

She said a healthcare business might be unable to comply with a request for data because “they do not have the resources or do not know how”.

Ms Wilson added: “However, noncompliance with providing population-level data, which has the sole purpose of strengthening our healthcare system, begs the question of why.”

She acknowledged that some in the industry had voiced unease over the gathering of health data.

The minister said: “What I’m hearing is concern as it relates to privacy.

“People are unfortunately under the incorrect assumption this will allow us to collect private data, which it does not.”

She said legislation was drawn up to comply with the Personal Information Protection Act, which will come into effect in January.

No private patient records or identifying details would be included, nor “sensitive demographics such as religion, sexual orientation, financial details, genetic information, anything work-related”.

Two physicians who spoke anonymously at the weekend offered countering views on the legislation.

Ms Wilson highlighted two consultation sessions in October and November when 520 health businesses were invited, including insurers, and the ministry provided details online.

However, one doctor said group chats among physicians showed concern over consultation.

The doctor added: “The wording of the amendment is very broad and this would be concerning for anyone who reads it — would this include demographics and personal patient information? It raises a lot of questions.”

Speaking of the health council, the doctor said: “I would be concerned that this amendment takes them outside their original remit, and I think that a number of local physicians would probably feel the same.”

However, another said that physicians needed to “drop the ego” and avoid taking a proprietary view of their patients’ information.

“We need to participate instead of the opposite.”

The doctor conceded the “harsh” tone of the penalties had been unpopular, and said: “It is not to punish physicians. It’s about getting the data.

“Right now for a population of perhaps 65,000, you can’t find out how many cancer patients we have, for example. Nothing is pooled into a central registry.

“If you ask for data and it is anonymised then there is nothing wrong with giving statistics. I do not see the harm.”

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Published May 14, 2024 at 7:44 am (Updated May 14, 2024 at 7:12 am)

Wilson: regulations put no personal health data at risk

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