Head of the Bermuda Medical Doctors Association (BMDA), Dr Henry Dowling has vowed to use “many voices” to “send a powerful message”, now that the disputed health Bill to monitor, license, and regulate healthcare service providers has been deferred pending more consultation with stakeholders.

Health Minister Jeanne Atherden withdrew the Bermuda Health Council Amendment Act, after hearing concerns cited by the Opposition Progressive Labour Party and local physicians.

“Although they had meetings with us in the earlier stages, none of those meetings gave substance to their intent until this Bill was presented,” said Dr Dowling.

“We now have the ability to show the Bermuda Health Council (BHeC) how this current Bill will negatively affect our ability to give our patients timely and quality health care. We look forward to helping this process along.”

Founder and Executive Chairman of Bermuda Healthcare Services, Dr Ewart Brown on hearing of the Bill’s withdrawal said: “Yes, it is a good thing that the legislation was deferred.

“Bermuda and its doctors dodged another bullet – because of a glaring knowledge gap and inexperience in the Ministry, we are repeatedly faced with ill-fated legislation.

“The pre-certification attempt, the mammography fiasco and now the Health Council legislation all point to a tendency to undervalue the input of doctors and others. They are determined to control us and we are determined to resist.”

Their comments were echoed by another physician, Dr Kyjuan Brown, who took issue with the lack of consultation on the part of the Ministry and the BHeC. While happy with the Minister’s decision to withdraw the Bill, he said:”I feel that this impasse could have been avoided via full detailed consultation on the proposed new legislation.”

“What happens to businesses that have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, only to be told now that you can no longer operate your facility’s lab or imaging services?

“Why are economists and statisticians regulating medical professionals when they have no clue how to interpret the data they are gathering because they don’t understand medicine?

“I am concerned because doctors have yet to speak up,” he said. In an attempt to “help shape the public dialogue in their favour” Dr Dowling was one of three live in-studio guests on the Sherri Simmons Show last week, with Dr Kyjuan Brown and former Premier Dr Ewart Brown.

Prior to that interview, the BMDA President also asked members “to look at the amendments” and then reach out to their respective MPs and patients, to “support us in this eleventh hour”. Just prior to the Bill’s withdrawal, Dr Dowling said: “I would like to think we have it within our power to stop it, we only require the will to do it.”

After reviewing the proposed changes, Dr Dowling said: “There was a lot of things that were added that we were not told of during the ‘consulting’ phase of the amendments.

“To say it bluntly, I feel we are being screwed by these changes, which will give the BHeC the power not only to license and register us, but to oversee, and pull our license should they choose.

“This is a power, that a non-physician based group should not hold over us, under any circumstance,” said Dr Dowling.

“Their changes have nothing to do with saving costs, and the data they continue to use is of poor value to make decisions that are so broad reaching. They have increased fines for breach of their registration and now have yearly registration fees of $1,000 dollars. We cannot support these changes, and according to the MPs that spoke, our silence is sending the wrong message.

“For our body to continually sit back and allow others to manipulate how we practice, who we potentially will be able to hire, and how we can charge for services (it is in the Act), is damning to our ability to come together for the common good of medicine in our island.

“I believe we need to send a strong message to the Minister and the BHeC about how we feel about her lack of inclusiveness. I had asked for your support some months back in asking to have our names withdrawn from the BHeC registration website, due to their usage of criteria that were not given to us before we registered, and also made no sense as to their validity.

“Although I had many reach out and agree to have their names withdrawn, it would be more impressive for our body to have the approval of the members to pull all their names. I also think we should consider withdrawing from any of the Minister appointed boards. How can we sit in groups that consider us to be incapable of running our practices without the BHeCs guiding hand?

“She [Minister] bragged about how they had three doctors on the board (she later realized that there were two MDs, and one psychologist), but gave no regard to their opinion before submitting this amendment.”

Meanwhile, Dr Brown took issue with the annual fee proposed in the initial Bill, which is 2.5% of the total value of the equipment.

In the case of BHCS he said: “For us that would be 2.5% of $2.8 million!” And on that note he said: “That is simply sick and is aimed at shutting us down.”

In a statement issued last week by BHeC CEO, Tawanna Wedderburn said: “Given the importance of this legislation to the delivery of healthcare and patient safety, the Health Council has undertaken to further consult with key stakeholders.”

She thanked the public and local providers, for their feedback during “the consultation process”. After the House debate, Ms Wedderburn said the council looks forward to continuing their “mission to regulate, coordinate, and enhance the delivery of health services in Bermuda”.

And the Minister, Ms Atherden said: “I support keeping this Bill in abeyance to allow further consultation given additional interest expressed by key stakeholders. We encourage all to participate in discussions to ensure mutual understanding and the best outcome possible.”

The BMDA is now encouraging all medical practitioners who have not joined th association to get on board.

Said Dr Dowling: “Many voices can send a powerful message, and we are trying to get as many of you to be a part those voices, and joining is easy.”

By Ceola Wilson