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Public left in dark over Brown payout

Angry statement: Ewart Brown closed CT Unit at end of January (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The full details of a $600,000 payout to former premier Ewart Brown from the public purse late last year will remain under wraps.

The Ministry of Health refused a public access to information request from The Royal Gazette to release the financial agreement Dr Brown struck with the Government last December after fees for diagnostic imaging scans at his two medical clinics were slashed.

Jennifer Attride-Stirling, the Permanent Secretary of Health, has upheld the decision to withhold the agreement and related legal correspondence, after a review of the paperwork held by the Government about the payments.

Two “grants” of $480,000 and $120,000 to the clinics were revealed by Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, in the House of Assembly in February.

The minister said Cabinet agreed to make the payments after finding itself in a “very difficult position” because of the former One Bermuda Alliance government’s decision to reduce the fees against the advice of technical officers.

Ms Wilson told MPs the move caused Dr Brown’s clinics “severe financial hardship”.

The OBA denied it ignored technical officers and Trevor Moniz, the Shadow Attorney-General, asked if the payments were a “gift” to Dr Brown or a “payoff” for his support for the Progressive Labour Party.

Dr Attride-Stirling wrote in a letter to The Royal Gazette that the agreement between the Ministry of Health and the Brown-Darrell Clinic and Bermuda Healthcare Services was a confidential document drafted by the Attorney-General’s Chambers and exempted under Pati rules.

Dr Attride-Stirling added that the ministry was also right to refuse to release a “letter before action” sent by Dr Brown and fellow physician J.J. Soares to the Ministry of Health in October last year that threatened legal action over the reduced fees.

She said: “Similarly, all correspondence and communications relating to the agreement and letter before action held by the AG’s Chambers were redacted and withheld on the same grounds, as the Act does not apply to records ‘obtained’ by the AG’s Chambers in the course of carrying out their functions.

“Legal and professional privilege also apply to these records in accordance with section 35(3) of the Act.”

She added that some records had to be redacted as they included “excerpts and references to Cabinet conclusions”.

The Pati request submitted in February asked for the agreement between Dr Brown’s clinics and the Ministry of Health and all communication related to it.

The request also asked for the letter that threatened legal action and any later correspondence, as well as records that showed how the payments to Dr Brown were calculated.

The Ministry of Health has released more than 300 pages of redacted records.

Ms Wilson said Dr Brown’s agreement with the Ministry of Health was reached on December 8 and the payments came from ministry funds.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman told The Royal Gazette in February that the legal threat was resolved without court proceedings.

She added: “As it was a legal matter, there will be no further details provided.”

The reduced fees for scans were projected to cause a $778,000 loss to Dr Brown’s clinics and $1.8 million shortfall for the Bermuda Hospitals Board in a health ministry fact sheet released in January.

An e-mail from Dr Attride-Stirling to Ms Wilson in January about the wording of the fact sheet, included in the Pati disclosure, said: “Government has recently granted financial supplements to both the Brown-Darrell Clinic and the Bermuda Hospitals Board in order to help ensure CT and MRI services are readily available to the public.”

She added that the supplements were also paid out to avoid having to revert to the higher fees, which would have caused an increase in health insurance premiums.

The CT scan unit at the Brown-Darrell Clinic in Smith’s closed at the end of January and Dr Brown said that the fee cuts had made the business unsustainable.

Mr Moniz later told Parliament: “I know the Government were hopeful that Dr Brown would keep his operation open. He said no, he was not keeping it open. He was shutting it down. And the Government went ahead and paid him anyway.”