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Doctors association proposes changes to health council Act

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda’s association of doctors has released recommendations for revisions to a law recently passed in the House of Assembly, saying it has the potential to compromise personal privacy.

The legislation approved by MPs this month allows the health minister to direct which data should be collected from healthcare providers.

After a legal analysis of the Bermuda Health Council Amendment Act 2024 by Carey Olsen Bermuda, the Bermuda Medical Doctors Association’s key concerns include arbitrary data sweeps by the council without proper ministerial guidance.

The group also flagged up inadequate privacy protection, and penalties it claims are “excessive”.

The BMDA, representing more than 300 of the island’s physicians, has submitted its proposed revisions and legal analysis to David Burt, the Premier, among others.

It claims the group was not properly consulted by the Government.

Section 5(2) of the proposed Act grants the Bermuda Health Council discretion to collect data.

A spokesman for the BMDA said this could lead to random data sweeps with insufficient guidance, leading to unintended consequences for healthcare.

The spokesman said: “Information requests by the council must be supported by clear written directions from the minister and must be reasonable, proportionate and necessary in the context of the minister's directions.”

Speaking to section 5(3), the association said the Act did not adequately safeguard personal privacy and commercially sensitive information.

The spokesman said: “The BMDA recommends implementing more privacy protections to ensure that privacy is the rule rather than the exception when it comes to healthcare.

“Ensure all information disclosed to the council remains anonymised and all commercially sensitive information is protected, unless otherwise explicitly required by the minister's direction.”

The BMDA called for penalties to be consistent with comparable laws, and to avoid punishing those who have a "reasonable excuse" for failing to comply with the demands of the council.

Failure by a healthcare provider, insurer or an approved scheme to provide the information or data requested by the council is an offence under the Act and could result in a fine of $20,000 or imprisonment, or both.

The BMDA said penalties should align with comparable statutes, imposing fines without the threat of imprisonment and incorporating a “reasonable excuse” defence.

The spokesman said it remains committed to collaborating with the Government to ensure that any amendments to the Act would enhance healthcare while protecting patients and healthcare providers.

The spokesman added: “The BMDA urges the Bermuda Government to seriously consider these recommendations, avoid unintended consequences from the amendments, and ensure a balanced approach to healthcare regulation.”

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said on the Act’s passing that a top objective of the legislation was to allow for the collection of data “necessary for improving healthcare outcomes and ensuring equitable access to services”.

“The Government relies on the council in fulfilling its services to regulate, co-ordinate and enhance the delivery of health services in Bermuda and to make evidence-based recommendations.

“However, the council does not have all of the legislative authority required to fulfil its role.”

She said the data collection was integral to advancing universal health coverage, adding: “We cannot manage what we cannot measure.”

Speaking on the penalties, Ms Wilson said other sections in the Act had the same provision, serving as a strong deterrent.

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Published May 28, 2024 at 7:59 am (Updated May 29, 2024 at 8:18 am)

Doctors association proposes changes to health council Act

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