The P.E.I. government has not taken into account the cost of transferring patients under a new plan that closes acute care beds in some Island hospitals, say the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

Under the plan announced last month, acute care beds in Souris, Alberton and Tyne Valley will be converted to long-term care beds.

Health PEI says the new plan will require more patient transfers between hospitals, raising the question of who pays for that cost. Patients will be moved by the province's ambulance system, which is operated by a private company, at a cost of $750 per transfer.

The official policy is that government pays $600 of that, and the patient $150. Health Minister Doug Currie says that policy is under review.

Fewer patients being charged

But Health PEI says the policy is already effectively changed. Acting CEO Dr. Richard Wedge told CBC News for more than a year now patients haven't been paying for transfers if they're moving to free up a hospital bed.

pe-hi-islandems-ambulance-8-4col

It costs $750 to transfer a patient between hospitals by ambulance. (CBC)

"If we're moving someone let's say from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital [in Charlottetown] to Montague because we need the bed the patient's not supposed to be paying," said Wedge.

"I mean, it's not their fault."

Only about half of the 3,300 patients transferred last year patients were billed. Wedge said ideally patients should never pay to be transferred, which is how it works in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Tory health critic Hal Perry said whether the patient pays or not, the transfers are a big expense for the system.

"They dropped this bombshell of changes on Islanders a few weeks ago and they haven't really thought it out," said Perry.

"These fees are going to be costing taxpayers and Islanders. We're going to be paying for them regardless, whether it's from our own pockets or through taxes."

The Opposition is calling the government's new plan health care on wheels.