Closing practice 'a disaster': P.E.I. doctor

Calling the P.E.I. health system "30 years behind Europe and parts of Canada," a prominent Charlottetown doctor shut down his practice Friday.

Calling the P.E.I. health system "30 years behind Europe and parts of Canada," a prominent Charlottetown doctor shut down his practice Friday.

Dr. Robbie Coull says he could no longer afford to operate his practice under the model offered by Health PEI. (CBC)

Dr. Robbie Coull's decision to leave the province and close the Phoenix Medical Practice will leave 4,500 people without a doctor. The practice employed 14 people.

"This is a disaster for health care in P.E.I.," Coull said in a news release Friday.

"P.E.I. is 30 years behind Europe and parts of Canada when it comes to family practice.  This means poor care for patients in P.E.I. — long waits to get a family doctor, long waits to see a family doctor, out of date systems of care, etc. Everyone agrees that P.E.I.'s health system needs to be overhauled."

Province funded pilot project

Coull arrived on the Island in October 2008 from Scotland. He quickly attracted attention by launching a blog and operating in public fashion.

According to a news release from the Phoenix Health Centre on Friday, Coull received $500,000 from the provincial government for a pilot project in 2010. The centre incorporated a pharmacist and other health care practitioners into the practice.

Four nurses provided preventative care and looked after patients with chronic diseases. The pharmacist provided medication reviews, a smoking cessation service, and a travel advice service.

Coull said funding has not been renewed for the project, and the practice cannot continue.

"We lost $10,000 over the last month, and that was without me taking any salary," he said in a release.

"Unfortunately, they've confirmed for us this week that that money will not be forth coming and we will not be getting negotiations for a pilot. We therefore have no option but to let go of all of our staff and to close the practice," Coull said to CBC News.

The Phoenix Medical Practice had proposed an expansion of its current model. The three-year pilot project would have provided funding for three doctors and cared for 7,500 patients. Coull said part of the project would have been to demonstrate cheaper per-patient per-year cost than what the province is currently paying out to salaried doctors. 

"We made it very clear to them that without this funding we would be forced to close our doors," he said.

Coull said he was very concerned about what will happen to his patients. In looking at the diabetics on his patient roster, he suggested that five of them could die over the next five years if they can't find another doctor to provide adequate care.

Dr.Richard Wedge, with Health PEI, said the affected patients will automatically be added to the patient registry of people waiting for a family doctor.

"Obviously with having that number of staff given the fee for service model, there is not enough income there to support it. The finance staff have looked over all his numbers, they have looked over all the numbers with his staff," Wedge told CBC News Friday afternoon. "They have looked at a number of different options that he could do in terms of rejigging how his work is being done."

"Obviously he has taken this stance today."

Coull said he will continue to provide some essential services to his patients over the next few months to give them an opportunity to find care elsewhere.

Coull plans to return to his native Scotland.