Minister of Health Zane De Silva and Bermuda Health Council CEO Dr. Jennifer Attride-Stirling. *Photo supplied
Minister of Health Zane De Silva and Bermuda Health Council CEO Dr. Jennifer Attride-Stirling. *Photo supplied

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 11: Good afternoon,

Thank you for being here today for the official release of the full report of the 2011 Health Survey of Adults in Bermuda.

The survey was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and the Bermuda Health Council to update our knowledge on the state of the country’s health, and the public’s views about healthcare.

Importantly, the main purpose of doing surveys like this one is to drive policy and programme development so we can improve health services and create a healthier population.  And that is what we intend to do with these results.

I’d like to point out that, in order to secure a highly reliable dataset, the survey used a large sample of households.

Therefore, the first group I want to thank is the 801 people who took part in the survey.  Your patience and contribution is deeply appreciated by me, the Ministry and the Health Council.

I also want to thank Mindmaps Ltd. for their superb execution of the survey.  And, let’s not forget the Department of Health and Bermuda Health Council staff for their leadership in conducting the study.

Now to the study itself.

I have to say that something I find especially valuable about this report is that the findings are presented by the main demographic variables significant in our community:  gender, age, race, household type, education, and income level.

This breakdown makes it possible for anyone to see very quickly which groups in our population are doing well, and which ones are not.

This Government is fundamentally concerned with equity in our community.  And we want to see health inequalities diminished to the greatest extent possible.

In order for us to tackle health inequalities, we need to know, for example, whether men are having their health checks, whether seniors get their flu shots, and whether the poor have health insurance.

The presentation of the results with these breakdowns makes it possible for policy makers, healthcare providers and insurers to see who is healthy and who is not.  And this is invaluable.

In addition, the report provides comparisons to previous years, which lets us see exactly where we have improved and where we may have challenges.

I must note that we have not had a population health survey since 2006, and the last ‘Perceptions of Health’ study was done by the Ministry of Health in 2005.

As a result, an update was essential so we can understand any changes over the past five years, in order to plan upcoming health reforms.

Overall, the 2011 findings reflected areas of stability, areas of improvement and areas of decline compared to previous studies.

In particular, chronic diseases appeared to remain steady since 2006, with few changes in conditions like asthma, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and coronary heart disease.  Specifically:

10% of the population have asthma

11% are diabetic

34% have high blood cholesterol, and

3% have cardiovascular disease.

Now, let’s be clear about one thing: these figures don’t reflect well on our people’s health.

The incidence of these conditions is too high, Bermuda; and we must do more as a community to address these.

However, they do reflect key areas where no change took place since the last health survey in 2006.  In other words, things didn’t get worse, but they didn’t get better, either.

But there was also some good news in this survey, and I think we need to highlight this and congratulate the people of Bermuda for improving their health.  For example, some improvements since 2006 were:

Improved eating habits - as we reported last week people are eating less fast food; this is great news for our arteries!

Increased moderate physical activity; Bermuda is moving more!  In 2006 only 27% did moderate physical activity, but by 2011, 53% of our people were moving more.  Well done, Bermuda.  This is exactly what we need to see.

People also reported much less exposure to second hand smoke.  There was a drop from 40% to just 25%.  This is a tremendous success!

Now, we know that a big part of the reason for this drop is the 2005 ban on smoking in enclosed public places.  This was clearly the right step for Bermuda to take to help all of us avoid unnecessary and harmful exposure to second-hand smoke.

But... the success is also due to the full participation by our restaurants and bars, which ultimately ensured that the law was implemented.  And for this, we should all be grateful.

Public health success doesn’t come only with laws and statutes.  But when the whole community is fully engaged in making things better for us all.

In addition, we can see in the results that there is greater awareness of methods to prevent the spread of disease.  Our message about the importance of hand washing has clearly been heard, and the Department of Health and all the doctors’ offices that display the hand washing posters can be very proud to see their efforts pay off.

Sadly, though, it wasn’t all good news.

The survey has also shown where our behaviours have gotten worse, and where our health system needs help.  For example:

Overweight and obesity have increased.  Not much; only from 64 to 67%.  But it is still an increase we did not need, Bermuda.

Despite eating a little less junk, and moving a little bit more, it is still not enough.

We continue to consume more calories than we burn, and until we turn this around, our waistlines will keep getting bigger.

We need to stop.  And we need to stop desperately.

But, you know, even in this area there was a little bit of good news, which gives me great pleasure to point out.

Although overweight and obesity increased in nearly all groups, blacks are the one demographic that showed a reduction.  It’s good to know that the changes in behaviour are making some difference.

Overall, however, given the increase in obesity, it should not be surprising that hypertension (or high blood pressure) has also risen significantly.  It went from 25% in 2006 to 36% this year.

But one of the findings that troubled me deeply is the increase in physical abuse by an intimate partner.

Reports increased from 23% in 2006 to 30% this year.  This means nearly 1 in 3 people have been physically abused in the past year.  One in three, Bermuda.  This is a shocking statistic.

And equally worrying is the unprecedented increase in reports of multiple sexual partners, which went up from 6% to 23% in just 5 years.  The implications for the spread of sexually transmitted infections and exposure to HIV are worrying.  We must ensure we tackle this disturbing trend immediately.

Lastly, I was very sad to find that the number of people having health checks and screenings has also gone down.  In particular:

Fewer women over 40 have had a mammogram;

Fewer men over the age of 40 had a prostate exam;

Fewer people had a general check-up in the past year; and

Fewer people had an HIV test – which is especially worrying, given the increase in the number of people with more than one sexual partner.

With respect to perceptions of healthcare, results were mixed.

Satisfaction with King Edward Memorial Hospital and the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute was unchanged, but satisfaction with Government clinics increased from 82% in 2006, to 87% this year.

However, people’s satisfaction with the state of the healthcare system went down.

Overall, only 18% of those surveyed felt the healthcare system was working pretty well with only minor changes needed. This is a decline from 26% in 2005.

A majority of 61% felt that there are good things about the healthcare system but fundamental changes were needed to make it work better.  I believe this is the strongest indication that a majority of Bermuda wants to see some fundamental health reforms.

To wrap up, I hope this summary of some key findings highlights the relevance of this study to Bermuda today.

I encourage everyone to have a look at this report, because there is something in it for everyone.

I know people in the health sector will benefit from the report.  But ordinary people will also find it very interesting to learn more about the issues that affect them day to day.

The report is available free on the web sites of the Bermuda Health Council and the Department of Health.

But, at the end of the day, it is not just about the numbers.

Bottom line is, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.

And I’m here to tell you, Bermuda, that we do care.

I DO care.

I care about my people, about my neighbours, and about every person who chooses to make a life on our shores.

Because we all want to be a part of a prosperous Bermuda, and good health is essential for prosperity.

For this reason, we intend to use the findings of the study to direct policy changes and upcoming health reforms.  Because we care about the health and well being of Bermuda and all of her people.

Remember, this is not just about the numbers; but about the people behind them.

We’ll be happy to take any questions, which Dr Cann and Dr Attride-Stirling will also take part in answering.

Thank you for your interest.