Burt vows to defend BHeC allegations
The former chief executive of the Bermuda Health Council claims in an application for judicial review pending before the Supreme Court that the Premier interfered in the running of the watchdog to push taxpayer-funded payments to Ewart Brown.
Tawanna Wedderburn alleges in the proceedings that intervention by David Burt also benefited at least one Cabinet minister and some Progressive Labour Party supporters. She also claims as part of the proceedings that Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, and Alicia Stovell-Washington, the BHeC chairwoman, interfered with the day-to-day operation of the council.
The notice of application that started the proceedings was released by the court after a formal request from The Royal Gazette. The document was submitted to the court as part of Ms Wedderburn’s attempt to win an order to quash her termination as BHeC chief executive last December.
Mr Burt said last night: “The allegations are strongly denied and they will be defended in the appropriate forum.”
A Ministry of Health spokeswoman added that the respondents in the case “vigorously denied” the allegations and were “robustly” defending themselves in the proceedings. The case started with a hearing last week in chambers.
Ms Wedderburn asked for permission to apply for a judicial review against the three individuals and the council in March, which was granted last month.
The application shows that Ms Wedderburn sought relief from what she alleged were “continuing” decisions by the Premier, the health minister and the BHeC chairwoman “to interfere with the functioning and day-to-day management of the Bermuda Health Council”.
The application adds that she wanted an order to quash the BHeC’s decision to recommend that she should be removed as chief executive, Ms Wilson’s approval of the recommendation, the termination itself, or all three.
Ms Wedderburn also wants a ruling that alleged interference by the Premier and the health minister was “unlawful because the council is intended to be an independent health regulator, performing its functions without party political interference”.
But Mr Burt said: “For the avoidance of doubt and for the information of the public, the Bermuda Health Council is not an independent regulator. This statutory body is, by law, subject to the directions of the Minister of Health.”
Ms Wedderburn “further or alternatively” asked for the court to rule that the alleged interference by the Premier, the health minister and Dr Stovell-Washington was unlawful “because it was done for the purpose of controlling the council’s policy decisions, and/or facilitating government payments and/or other pecuniary awards to specific Progressive Labour Party supporters, a former premier, at least one Cabinet minister, and/or others”.
Ms Wedderburn’s tenure at the BHeC ended in December last year in what the health watchdog said was a “separation of employment”.
She served as chief executive for nearly three years and had worked at the organisation since 2007 in other roles.
The BHeC is responsible for setting MRI and CT scan charges for private healthcare providers. The former One Bermuda Alliance administration slashed fee rates in June 2017.
The cuts affected the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital as well as two clinics owned by Dr Brown, a former PLP premier.
Compensation expected to total $3.6 million — $2.4 million to Bermuda Hospitals Board and $1.2 million to Dr Brown — is to be paid out by the PLP government.
Records released under public access to information in 2018 by the Ministry of Health showed how Dr Brown, the owner of Bermuda Healthcare Services in Paget and the Brown-Darrell Clinic in Smith’s, sent a string of angry e-mails and letters about the fee cuts to Ms Wedderburn. He also named her and two other public servants when he announced the closure of the scanner unit at the Brown-Darrell clinic because of the fee cuts in January 2018.
Dr Brown said at a press conference: “Remember these names. Jennifer Attride-Stirling, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health. Tawanna Wedderburn, CEO of the health council, and Ricky Brathwaite, so-called health economist. I want you to remember those names.”
He was not named in the application for leave form that was submitted by Ms Wedderburn, and provided to the Gazette after it asked the Supreme Court registry for access to records, but it is understood he is the “former premier” in the documents.
Ms Wedderburn also asked for declarations from the court that the recommendation to terminate her as chief executive was unlawful because the council was “tainted by bias” and that she was not notified of the proposed decision or given the opportunity to make representations on it.
The notice added that she wanted: “Further or alternatively, a declaration that the recommendation was unlawful because it was made for improper purposes, namely: because Wedderburn was perceived to be obstructive to certain political intentions; to safeguard a series of unlawful decisions in favour of specific individuals and/or healthcare providers; to make it likely that specific politically motivated policies would be imposed upon the council without any or any adequate obstruction; and/or because of personal animosity against Wedderburn.”
It was also alleged that Ms Wilson’s approval was unlawful for the same reasons or because she did not fully investigate the recommendation before it was carried out.
Ms Wedderburn claimed that the alleged refusal of permission for her to join a trade union was unlawful and she said she wanted damages “for the Premier’s, minister’s, chairman’s and/or council’s misfeasance in public office”.
A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said: “The respondents in this matter vigorously deny the applicant’s allegations in their entirety, and are robustly defending their position through the proper court process, adhering to its rules.
“Therefore, further comment cannot be made at this time.”
Juliana Snelling ,of Canterbury Law, who is acting for the BHeC and Dr Stovell-Washington, said it was “entirely inappropriate” for the council or the chairwoman to comment as the case was before the courts.
Canterbury Law said in January that Ms Wedderburn’s employment was “terminated lawfully by the council in full compliance with section 18(1)(b) of the Employment Act 2000, the Bermuda Health Council Act 2004 and her contract of employment which calls for one-month notice of termination”.
The BHeC lawyers added that Ms Wedderburn was paid for her notice period and also offered six months’ pay and benefits “in good faith”.
Eugene Johnston, who represents Ms Wedderburn, declined to comment.
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