Slow progress in medical tourism plans in the Bahamas

IMTJ has published several reports on plans for medical tourism to the Bahamas, but these plans have yet to bear fruit. A local surgeon has put forward his view on the lack of progress.

Bahamas surgeon Duane Sands says, “The Bahamas must knock down all the barriers that threaten the viability of a medical tourism industry, as there is a disconnect between rhetoric and reality. The Bahamas needs to embrace medical tourism and push it aggressively to potential overseas clients/healthcare providers, if it is to establish itself as a major player in the sector. The supporting infrastructure, with a timely and efficient approvals process, requires implementation. Time is money, and various approvals committees described in legislation are yet to be appointed. So potential investors will head elsewhere rather than suffer inordinate delays in the Bahamas.”

A new law on the still controversial use of stem cell therapy is aimed at making the Bahamas a global pacesetter in stem cell therapy and related practices But Sands points out that the new law is useless unless the infrastructure is in place so that people can get treatment. “It is all well and good to talk about it and strategise about it. The difficulty is when you convert that into action. I am not holding my breath. We need implementation, whether it is one, two or three new medical tourism programmes by the Government, or the private sector with the support of government, to make anything happen. I am not optimistic that anything will ever be done. It threatens the viability of the industry if you create projects and business plans on a basis that assumes certain things will happen. Then they do not happen, and you have got to go back and revise it and revise it again. It is then that people start to look at other jurisdictions. Investors will not wait for a two or three year delay in a multi-million dollar project.”

The Bahamas has a history of medical tourism projects that have been slow to materialise. Doctors Hospital has suffered licensing and permit delays associated with its medical tourism programme. Approvals delays meant its Bahamas Medical Centre hit just 53% of its projected $2.64 million revenue target for the year to end-January 2014.

The frustration of Doctors Hospital is expressed by chairman, Joseph Krukowski: “Delays in receiving the appropriate approvals for the projects to proceed continue to frustrate our intentions. Further delays could result in loss of these enterprises to other destinations, which appear more receptive to accommodating the operation. If this were to occur, it would be detrimental to the patient community, the medical profession, the hospitality industry and the country’s reputation in general.”

Building and other planning regulations are not the only barriers to progress. Fiscal incentives for clinics buying imported medical equipment have either not happened or have been difficult for clinics to access and gain approval from the government.

The development of the Princess Margaret Hospital’s critical care block has also suffered delays.  The unfinished building is already 18 months behind schedule.

Duane Sands concludes, “It is one thing to say you are committed to medical tourism, it is another thing entirely to allow it to happen. The government’s approach to-date had been a lot of hyperbole, a bit of rhetoric and business as usual. The Bahamas needs to dedicate resources to make it happen, with the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Finance working in concert.”

The Bahamas is not the only country where politicians have made numerous promises of support for medical tourism, until it comes to the point of committing time, money and resources.