A call by a patients pressure group for the head of the island’s health watchdog to be replaced by a “neutral” non-medical figure has been rejected by the health minister.
Kim Wilson said it was “entirely appropriate” for a physician to chair the Bermuda Health Council after the Bermuda Healthcare Advocacy Group questioned whether ophthalmologist Alicia Stovell-Washington should be in the top role.
The call came after a member of the public complained to the patients group about being charged for a visit to Dr Stovell-Washington’s surgery when the doctor was not present and other staff conducted tests.
The patient, who asked not to be named, said they were surprised to be charged a “substantial” copay for the visit and told they would have to return to see the doctor to have their eyes dilated at further cost.
The BHAG said it was difficult to see how the patient could have any confidence in the Bermuda Health Council to investigate the concern, as Dr Stovell-Washington was its chairwoman.
But Ms Wilson, who appoints the council’s board, said there was “nothing unusual” about a physician heading up the council.
She added: “This is not the first time the health council has had a physician as its chairman and it is entirely appropriate, just as the chair of the Medical Council is a medical doctor and the chairs of other professional councils are health professionals.
“Dr John Cann was chairman of BHeC in 2012. There is also precedent of a healthcare provider as a chair of the health council, as was the case with Simone Barton of the Bermuda Heart Foundation in 2015 to 2017.”
Ms Wilson said she was aware that the health council had rules to deal with potential conflicts, including a conflict-of-interest policy and signed declarations.
She added: “I fully support the chairman’s integrity and transparency.
“The allegations regarding billing have not been raised with me at any time by the Bermuda Healthcare Advocacy Group or by anyone else.
“As a general rule, complaints about healthcare billing should be raised with the provider directly in the first instance and, if unresolved, can be submitted to the health council by the patient.
“To my knowledge, no such complaint has been made. If it is, my expectation is that it would be investigated as with any other complaint.”
Ricky Brathwaite, the acting chief executive of the BHeC, said the council’s board did not deal with specific complaints so no conflict would arise if a complaint was filed.
He added: “No one is provided preferential treatment in the health system. The healthcare advocacy group is more than welcome to file a complaint.
“Every provider, even Dr Stovell-Washington, would have to go through responding to that complaint if it’s made.”
He said physicians were regulated by the medical council and the health council had oversight of insurance matters.
Dr Stovell-Washington said in an e-mail: “I have contacted Bermuda Healthcare Advocacy Group and discussed their concerns. The matter has been resolved between us. I ask that the one patient who had a concern contact my practice directly so we can review their inquiries.”
The patients group said in a statement that the issue they raised had been “heard, addressed and hopefully resolved”.
It added: “Bermuda Health Advocacy Group ... agrees that there should be physicians on the Bermuda Health Council to give valid input.
“However, senior positions should remain neutral.”
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