Raising the standards of healthcare
New legislation designed to improve healthcare standards and protect patients has been passed by the House of Assembly.
Jeanne Atherden, the Minister of Health, said the Medical Practitioner's Amendment Bill would “strengthen and regularise” the governance of the physician sector, registration standards and the complaints-handling procedures.
Ms Atherden described the 1950 Medical Practitioners Act as “outdated” saying: “It requires substantial amendment to ensure it is relevant to the current practice of medicine in Bermuda.”
The new Bill requires members of the Bermuda Medical Council to declare conflicts of interest, while practitioners must make up over half of the council's membership.
Members can serve for two consecutive terms of three years, and may only be reappointed after a break.
The legislation requires that the BMC establishes a code of conduct for medical practitioners.
Under the new Bill physicians have to be “actively practising” to register and possess malpractice insurance so patients can seek redress for medical errors or misconduct.
The amendment removes disparities in registration fees and exam requirements that arose depending on where a physician worked.
At present fees are waived for practitioners employed at the hospital and in the Bermuda Government, and the exam is waived for those employed in Government.
Ms Atherden said: “The removal of the fee and the exam waiver by place of employment provides equity of registration requirements and formally establishes a single standard across Bermuda.”
The new legislation amends the definition of misconduct to include failing to discharge a duty prescribed under any other statute such as the Public Health Act 1949 that requires physicians to report communicable diseases.
It also provides that all reports of impaired practitioners end up with the Chief Medical Officer who then informs the Professional Conduct Committee.
Previously reports against hospital medical practitioners were just referred to the Chief of Staff, who must now inform the Chief Medical Officer.
Furthermore members on the adjudicating body; the council, cannot be on the investigation body; the committee.
The Chief Medical Officer has also been removed from the investigation process with all complaints going to the committee to investigate, while appeals concerning registration will be to the Supreme Court instead of Cabinet.
The amendment gives the council power to impose an immediate suspension of practice on a practitioner, if there is significant and demonstrable risk to the public, pending an investigation.
During Friday's debate in the House of Assembly Opposition MPs Kim Wilson and Michael Weeks questioned Ms Atherden on the level of consultation that had taken place with medical practitioners over the changes.
While PLP Michael Scott queried whether the legislation was a reaction to recent Supreme Court cases involving the Bermuda Hospitals Board and claimed the Bill simply created barriers within the profession.
But Ms Atherden maintained that consultation within the profession had taken place and the legislation had “nothing to do” with any recent court case.
“This is designed to improve the standards of the physician community and increase the level of expertise,” she said.