Bermuda explores medical tourism

The Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) is actively exploring medical tourism with one venture already generating 1,000 bed nights for local hotels. BHB says that new prostate cancer treatment unavailable in the USA has brought 200 medical tourists as well as their families and doctors to the Island since being introduced at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH) nine months ago.

Bermuda only has two hospitals, both run by BHB, a government owned body and the second largest employer on the island. KEMH in Hamilton is Bermuda’s largest hospital. In February, BHB cut short by 18-months a five year deal where US medical consultants Kurron Medical had been tasked with developing a health strategy for the island, including medical tourism.

BHB believes that high intensity focused ultrasound could be one of a number of niche procedures to attract medical tourists. But Shadow Health Minister Louise Jackson warns adopting practices not accepted in the US could shatter Bermuda’s international reputation. HIFU, a non-invasive alternative to chemotherapy has not been approved by America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) BHB replied, “The treatment enables prostate cancer patients to travel to Bermuda to have a leading edge treatment. This treatment is proven and available in many countries, including Canada and Europe, and is currently in the final stages of clinical trials in the US. Until it goes through final approval in the US by the FDA, Bermuda’s proximity to the US and the fact we can offer recovery in a beautiful island setting make it a compelling destination for US patients. This is a benefit to the hospital and Bermuda.” Louise Jackson retorted, “We have got to ensure that the medical facilities here operate in accordance with recognised standards in care. This prostate cancer treatment has been brought to Bermuda, not FDA approved, and, we have our reputation in danger. At stake here is the protection of patients and Bermuda’s reputation. It is medical tourism of the worst kind.”

The Bermuda Democratic Alliance is calling for BHB to ensure waiting times for locals don’t go up as a result of medical tourism. Candidate Michael Branco said the BDA is keeping an open mind on the topic, “ Bermudians could suffer as a result of bed space being handed over to American residents, and that care on offer is of an internationally accepted standard. The BDA is opposed to the provision of services in Bermuda that do not represent internationally recognised good practice. Is there capacity within our system to absorb medical tourists? Bermuda has a duty to provide safe and effective health care for our residents, and if an influx of medical tourists will take up hospital beds and drain resources available to locals, this would obviously be undesirable. How does BHB plan to balance these issues, particularly in relation to allocation of operating room time.”?

BHB recently signed a deal with Paget Health Services, a consortium of local and international businesses, to design and build within 3 years, a new hospital to replace KEMH’s ageing structures.