Bermuda shorts 17: going bananas!

by Bill Shields

06 April 2020

In April 2017, after 30 years working in NHS finance, former HFMA chairman Bill Shields moved to Bermuda as chief financial officer of the territory’s hospitals board. In this series of blogs, he documents his experiences.

To say that I did not expect to be writing much of the content of this edition would be an understatement of unprecedented proportions. When I started writing, my biggest concern was Bermuda’s latest banana drought – hence the title. I hadn’t realised how much I enjoyed this fruit (or is it a herb….ask a botanist!) But not having any for over six weeks had caused me to dream about banoffee pie, mashed banana, bananas in pyjamas, etc!

The shortage has been caused by infected, imported bananas, which are infested with mealy bugs and is compounded by most of the domestic crop being wiped out by last September’s Hurricane Humberto.

Since then, however, world events have taken a very unexpected turn and Bermuda is not immune. I was booked to go on the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual conference in Orlando at the beginning of March and was intrigued at the prospect of hearing the 45th president of the USA deliver the keynote address.

At the last minute, however, the conference of 50,000 people was cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and I decided to use the opportunity to visit my son in Bristol. I had a vague idea that my planned trip to the UK in April might be slightly impacted by what I expected to be a fairly short-lived virus with a similar impact to SARS or swine flu.

This feeling that everyone was overreacting was reconfirmed when I arrived at Gatwick on Sunday 8 March 8. There were no border force staff on duty. The impact of events unfolding over the coming week – as it became clear that this was much more serious than originally thought with the number of cases and fatalities increasing in Europe – came as a real shock. This feeling continued as I flew back to Bermuda on Sunday 15 March on one of the fullest flights I have ever been on.

It really did feel like being in the last helicopter to take off from the roof of a hotel in Saigon.

On arrival in Bermuda, we were informed that we were required to complete a health questionnaire and, subsequently, were informed that self-quarantine would be mandatory for all arrivals from 17 March.

As a Bermuda Hospitals Board employee, I knew that I would have to self-quarantine for two weeks in any case. And as I write, three days in with 11 to go, I realise that my complaint about bananas really wasn’t that important at all!

Many of you will already be experiencing the delights of working from home. Avril has never fully appreciated that this does not also mean I can catch up with odd jobs and that there is still the routine of meetings to be followed! The boredom of being indoors, particularly in Bermuda where the weather has been fantastic since we arrived, is also something making me go bananas.

At the time of writing, Bermuda has had only a handful of cases, four of whom have required hospitalization. But it is already experiencing the impact of closedowns elsewhere in the world.

Most of the airlines have cancelled flights until May. There will be no cruise line arrivals for the foreseeable future. And at least three hotels have closed and are offering to rollover deposits to next year.

The knock-on impact of this can also be seen in the wider economy with at least one store dependent on tourism laying staff off already.

From BHB’s perspective, there are at least two considerations. First, there is the supply chain. Like every other healthcare provider in the world, we are trying to procure additional ventilators. However, when you are looking to procure four and, New York State requires 30,000, this presents some real challenges.

Equally, like every other country in the world, we are trying to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, drugs, blood and all of the other critical areas at this time.

The second issue relates to supply of labour. How do you get staff in without public transport? Where do you get replacement staff, when we usually rely on overtime? And how do you reassure staff, clinical and non-clinical, that their safety will not be compromised?

My belief is that, like the NHS, BHB will rise to these, once in a lifetime, challenges and that our many staff will continue to show the dedication and self-sacrifice they do on a daily basis.

In the coming weeks and months, we will be clearer about the pressures on our respective health systems and, indeed, way of life.

Until the next time, keep safe and good day!



View all Bill Shields’ Bermuda shorts blogs