Citing new legislation to introduce a Sugar Tax as her Ministry’s “most recent accomplishment”, Health Minister Kim Wilson updated her parliamentary colleagues on the Ministry’s “achievements” during the first year of the Progressive Labour Party Government.
In follow up to a number of 2017 Throne Speech initiatives, she said “the new regime to increase duty on sugar, candies and sugary drinks” in October, “allows for local producers of food to be exempted from the tax”.
“This means local vendors like bakers, snow ball stands and so on, won’t be impacted. In fact, local food producers are better off, because the new concession can be used to purchase their equipment as well, not just the sugar,” said Ms Wilson.
“However, the initiative contributes to the Government’s commitment to incentivise the public to choose healthier options in order to battle Bermuda’s overweight and obesity problem.
“In addition, the Government committed to provide local radiation therapy coverage for HIP and FutureCare clients. This was accomplished promptly in October 2017, demonstrating our commitment to improve access to life-saving treatments for Bermuda’s residents.”
She also noted that the Residential Care Homes and Nursing Homes Amendment Bill passed in December 2017, “improved the regulatory framework for care homes to improve standards of care”.
“This legislation had not been updated substantially for nearly 20 years, so upgrades were well overdue. However, as we well know, legislation alone is not enough, and my team then went on to develop and publish the Code of Practice for Care Homes, which sets the minimum standards for the operation of care homes,” she said.
“The Code of Practice states clearly for providers, residents and the families, what the mandatory requirements are, the criteria homes need to uphold, and guidance on how to meet the standards. These new requirements serve to provide further safeguards for those in care, whether seniors or disabled.
“These are fundamental rights deserved by any person in a care setting. They commit providers to treating persons with dignity and respect,” she added.
The Minister also highlighted “the establishment of an obesity and diabetes framework”, following the Symposium held in January by the Department of Health.
Recognising the fact that “our community must take drastic action to reduce habits that lead to chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease”, she stressed that “these chronic diseases are all preventable with healthy eating, active living and maintaining a healthy weight”.
“Of course, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption are also vital lifestyle choices to avoid these conditions that plague Bermuda and have pushed our health costs to the brink.”
As a result of the symposium she said “many commitments from a broad range of community organizations that will help Bermuda halt the rise in obesity and diabetes” were harvested.
On the ongoing issue of health costs, the Minister also stressed “that although the standard premium rate was increased by 6.4 percent this year, this was not due to any fee increases”.
“We have been accused of reneging on our promise to contain healthcare costs, but I think all informed parties understand very well that the 6.4 percent rise in the standard premium was due to increased use of services in the previous year,” said Ms Wilson.
“That is utilization that could not have been prevented by this Government.”
Moving forward, she said the Government has demonstrated their “commitment to containing health costs by not increasing standard benefit fees, in particular for the largest provider: the hospital”.
Instead, she said: “We have undertaken the difficult work to modernize BHB’s fees to be based on an international standard of relative value units with a local conversion factor.
“This work is in its final stages and will be brought to the House in the fall, showing our commitment to our Throne Speech initiative to review healthcare costs.”
In closing, she said her Ministry also “showed its commitment to Bermuda’s health and wellbeing by creating Child Care Standards to protect children in day care”, to “educate providers and parents on what is safe and expected in child care settings”.
They provide guidance on child care and ensure our children are given the best start in life.
“The years from birth to 3 years are an extremely important stage in life when a critical amount of brain development occurs, which has a profound impact on a child’s future; on their learning abilities and their behaviour. During these critical years, any one caring for children, whether parents or formal child care providers, play a vital role.
“The Child Care Standards provide guidance to ensure safe and healthy development for our children,” said the Minister.
She also acknowledged “the good work of the previous administration, which established some great initiatives” like the “review of the Mental Health Act and the Long Term Care Action Plan”.
She also acknowledged the fact that the former One Bermuda Alliance government “advanced many initiatives that were started under the previous PLP Government, such as FutureCare and the Bermuda Health Strategy, which have become central parts of our health system”.
“This shows that bi-partisan agreement and collaboration serves to achieve the country’s best interest and is an effective way to bring about long-term improvements in health and healthcare for Bermuda,” she said.
“I definitely look forward to continuing collaboration because, ultimately, I know we share the same vision for Healthy People in Healthy Communities.
“And, lastly, I want to end on a happy note to wish all of Bermuda a healthy Cup Match holiday.
“Without wanting to rain on the parade, I do have to pause and remind us all that drunk driving and sexual indiscretions increase dramatically during any public holiday. We relax, over-indulge and take risks… Risks that can cost us our life.
“Accidents go up during any public holiday, and visits to the Communicable Disease Clinic go up immediately after such holidays. So let us take heed of past experience and celebrate this Emancipation Day by freeing ourselves of thoughtless decisions that hurt us and our families.
“I wish everyone a happy Cup Match of healthy choices!”