The hospital says the emergency room closures are temporary. (CBC)

People in West Prince are worried temporary closure of the emergency room at Western Hospital signals the beginning of the end of round the clock care.

The emergency room will be closed overnight 12 times in January because of a doctor shortage.

Health PEI said one of the four doctors that usually staff it is unavailable. It calls the situation temporary.

"The residents of West Prince are very concerned there might be more closures or a permanent closure to the ER at the Western Hospital in Alberton," said Hal Perry, the MLA for Tignish-Palmer Road. "They're going to take a proactive approach to this."

"I think it's terrible," said Sheila Whitlock, who lives in the area. "I think we need to do something about hiring some more doctors."

"We're very disappointed to hear this and very concerned," agreed Georgie Wallace. "We just do hope this issue will be solved."

Other options proposed

Pat Murphy, MLA for Alberton-Roseville, is proposing the hospital use a nurse and paramedic to staff the emergency room when a doctor is not available.

He also suggests the shifts for physicians be turned into two 12-hour shifts, so they can share the long hours.

Dave McKenna, chair of the Western Hospital Foundation, said they're ideas worth exploring, but everyone would prefer hiring more doctors.

"We'll still fight to keep it open, but if it comes down to a nurse practitioner or EMS worker, I guess we'd have to start looking at that," he said. 

Health PEI said it is committed to maintaining overnight emergency room services at Western Hospital.

It needs six or seven doctors in total.

Residents have organized a public forum on the hospital's future for Jan. 17 at the local high school. Some have started a Facebook group called Save Western Hospital.

Last year, the community fought a bitter battle to keep dialysis services at the hospital.