Nearly 10,000 Prince Edward Islanders received medical treatment in either Nova Scotia or New Brunswick last year, and at the current rate that could increase to almost 11,000 this year.

Patients travelling to N.S. and N.B.
2009-10 8.761
2010-11 8,900
2011-12 9,271
2012-13 9,847
2013-14 (to Dec. 31) 8,147

The number of off-Island patients has been increasing steadily since 2009.

Anti-poverty groups say that increase is taking a toll on low-income families, and it's time the P.E.I. government started covering some of those travel costs. The province provides some assistance for social assistance clients, and for Islanders awaiting a transplant, but that is all.

"There's so many costs involved with having a sick individual," said Judy Barrett of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

"I think we have to have a system that looks at low-income families and is able to provide assistance and help."

The St. Vincent de Paul Society provides some Islanders with medical travel assistance as part of its charitable work. It has been lobbying for government aid.

No money to travel

Tanya Millar of Summerside has a five-year-old son, Christian, with a rare genetic disorder.

Millar told CBC News they've been to the IWK hospital in Halifax at least a dozen times since 2010. Each overnight trip costs $300 to $400. She has borrowed from her parents, taken out a payday loan, and one time she just couldn't afford to get her son to his appointment.

"I've had to cancel a trip one time just because I did not have the money to go over at that point, and it was a couple of months before they could reschedule it," said Millar.

"It was heartbreaking, I felt horrible about it, but if you don't have the money what are you supposed to do?"

Millar said even getting some help with the bridge toll would be a start.

Health Minister Doug Currie said there are no plans to change medical travel coverage.

"There's been no new policy implementation on covering travel costs," said Currie.


There are no current plans to change government policy on medical travel costs, says Health Minister Doug Currie. (CBC)

Our focus right now is continuing to meet the demand of Islanders that are requiring quality service and out-of-province service."

Currie said the province's second largest hospital budget is for out of province services.

One category of patients that needs to travel out of province now that did not have to a few years ago is those needing vascular surgery. The province lost its vascular surgeon in 2012 and is currently considering when to hire a new surgeon, or to continue providing that service in Halifax.

For mobile device users: What should P.E.I. do about the increasing number of people travelling off-Island for medical services?