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Atherden’s mission to make island healthier

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Minister of Health and Seniors, Jeanne Atherden, speaks to reporters at a press conference this afternoon (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Government is looking to address a serious medical cost burden by making Bermudians healthier.

Speaking on initiatives included in the 2016 Throne Speech, Jeanne Atherden, the Minister of Health and Seniors, said the ministry was implementing a multiyear strategy to make the island healthier and — as a result — manage healthcare costs.

“Our goal is to deliver affordable, sustainable quality healthcare for all Bermuda residents,” she said. “The future healthcare needs of our community are being determined by the changes we see in the disease patterns and demographic shifts in the Bermuda populations.

“The onset of chronic, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease happens at an early age in Bermuda. Three out of every four adults in Bermuda are obese or overweight. This can lead to serious medical problems which have a real effect on the individual, but the nationwide medical problems impose a serious cost burden on the healthcare system.

“There are more seniors than there have ever been, and Bermudians are getting sicker from lifestyle-related diseases at a younger age. This double demand puts a serious strain on our healthcare workforce, our family and our finances.”

In order to address the issues, she said the Government would educate children about health issues at a younger age through the Premier’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition programme to help prevent the onset of lifestyle-related conditions.

Meanwhile, she said the long-term care action plan would help to care for seniors, develop staff for long-term care and educate the public about long-term care issues.

“We have a number of initiatives designed to keep seniors in their home as long as possible, where they are happier and healthier, and thus free up the beds in residential care facilities for those who need the most,” she said.

Such efforts, she said, would help to ease the financial burden of healthcare.

“It means they would be able to stay at home longer, they would not need more expensive treatment,” she added. “If you can figure out what you can do differently, it impacts the number of doctor visits, it impacts the amount of medication.”

Ms Atherden also noted other initiatives included in the Throne Speech, such as considering the use of some cannabinol products in healthcare and the development of private-sector incentives to develop long-term care.

“We have things designed not only to deal with things now, but to put a plan together to deal with things in the future,” she said.

Asked about the issue of the cost of healthcare, Ms Atherden said that addressing the health of the public would in turn help to address healthcare costs.

“The thing that drives healthcare is illness,” she said. “If we can get healthier people, then we can reduce the cost of healthcare. We are focusing on quality. We are focusing on what people can do to make themselves healthier, what can they do so they don’t have to utilise the services.

“If they can see their health improving, then hopefully they will also see the cost of healthcare going down, and that would be a double improvement.”

And questioned about the possibility of a “sugar tax”, she said there had been some thought put into the concept.

“Part of the thought relates to gathering data information to determine if it would really work,” she said. “We have to start educating people not only what they eat or drink and where sugar comes from. It isn’t just about the sugary things that you drink, it’s also about the things you perhaps eat in greater amounts than you should.

“Through work with the Bermuda Diabetes Association, we have programmes to ensure that we do things differently. If you can get people to be healthier younger, you develop these good lifestyles and healthier adults.”

Minister of Health and Seniors, Jeanne Atherden, talks about her ministry's healthcare plans (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)