CBC Investigates

Patients upset as P.E.I. loses one of only two gastroenterologists

One the Island's two gastroenterologists is leaving at the end of the month, and his boss says Health PEI should have done more to keep him on the Island.

Department head says Health PEI should have done more to keep Dr. Rajal Khan

P.E.I. is losing one of its two gastroenterologists at the end of the month. Dr. Rajal Khan is taking a job in Newfoundland. (CBC)

One the Island's two gastroenterologists is leaving at the end of the month, and his boss says Health PEI should have done more to keep him on the Island.

Dr. Rajal Khan was hired in a temporary position — known as a locum — after another surgeon retired. He's worked in the position for two years.

When it contracted Khan, Health PEI said it stipulated, in order to get permanent work, he would have to get specialized training to perform something called ERCP.

This minimally-invasive surgical procedure allows doctors to investigate diseases of the gastrointestinal track, including the liver and the gall bladder, in a way that's easier on the patient. 

In a statement explaining Dr. Khan's departure, Health PEI said he was "encouraged to seek this specialized training," but then "in early September, Health PEI learned that Dr. Khan, who did not pursue ERCP training, would be leaving the province .... for another employment opportunity." 

Head of internal medicine disputes claim

The head of internal medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Dr. Bruce Jones, thinks Health PEI could have done more to keep Dr. Khan in P.E.I.

"That's a bold-faced lie," said Khan's boss, Dr. Bruce Jones, head of the department of internal medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Khan didn't want to do an interview with CBC and asked Jones to speak on his behalf.

Jones said Khan arranged three meetings in late 2015 to discuss the training with officials and that those meetings were cancelled by Health PEI.

"Three meetings were cancelled, there was never any further follow-up with that and they made no offer to our department in an attempt to support him to get additional training," said Jones. 

Khan would have had to leave the Island for eight months to a year to get the training. He intended to ask Health PEI to pay him a resident's salary, approximately $85,000, during the training, something Jones said is common in situations like this. 

Patient 'upset and disappointed'

One of hundreds of Khan's patients, Sharon Myers, doesn't understand Health PEI's rationale, calling it very bad judgment.

Sharon Myers said she was upset and disappointed when Khan told her he was leaving. She's one of hundreds of Dr. Khan's patients.

The 59-year-old Patrick's Road resident had been seeing Khan four times a year up until a few months ago when, after improvements in her health, that dropped to twice a year. 

Myers doesn't want to disclose her medical condition, but she said Khan has helped get her health under control. She doesn't understand why Health PEI didn't do more to keep him here.

"Dr. Khan wanted to stay here ... This is where they were planning on making a life," said Myers. 

"So it's our loss. That's what I feel. It's the province's loss. It's the patients' loss. I don't understand the rationale that they would let a person go who was so well-qualified, so committed and so interested in being here. That just seems to me, very bad judgment."

Health PEI executive calls it 'disappointing'  

"Some of the statements that I'm hearing for Dr. Khan are a bit disappointing," said Dr. Tom Dorran, who took over as executive director of medical affairs for Health PEI in June.

Dorran said he was not aware of any meetings Khan may or may not have had prior to June.

He said the first he learned of Khan's interest in ERCP training was at a meeting in the fall when Khan told him he was leaving the province for another job. 

Executive director of medical affairs for Health PEI, Dr. Tom Dorran, says it's disappointing Dr. Khan is leaving. (CBC)

"My understanding was that Dr. Khan was encouraged to get the training, and I think this is where words are important because encouragement means different things to different people," Dorran told CBC.

"And, you know, if Dr. Khan had come to me I would have said 'Yeah, absolutely, you know go off and get the training, and then when you're all done the training, come on back and we'll see what's available for you, if there's an opening available.'" 

When asked whether Health PEI would have paid a resident's-level salary during the training, Dorran said he doesn't want to get into "would have, could have should have," but when pressed he said he wasn't sure because he hasn't signed this kind of training agreement since starting the executive director job five months ago. 

Possible replacement 

Dorran said it's looking promising that another doctor will take over Khan's temporary position — one with ERCP training. No contract has been signed, but Dorran hopes one will be soon. 

The search to find someone to take over the job permanently has been underway for two years with no success, but Dorran said Health PEI is ramping up its recruiting efforts. 

Another possible solution is also being explored — hiring a GI specialist without the training, as well as another doctor with the ERCP ability, to cover all the bases.

This solution would have opened up the opportunity for Khan to get permanent work on P.E.I. without requiring any additional training. Instead, Khan will be leaving for a new job in Newfoundland at the end of this month.