Medical society, government discuss changes to doctor recruitment on P.E.I.
'Everything's on the table' says minister, as doctors warn of looming 'crisis'
It's an issue that all four political parties agreed on in the recent P.E.I. election — the province needs to change its approach to physician recruitment, and doctors themselves need to play a more active role in recruiting their peers.
And while the group that represents Island doctors has referred to a looming "crisis" with regard to the number of doctors working in the province, both the Medical Society of P.E.I. and government say talks about a new recruitment model are in "early days."
President of the medical society Dr. David Bannon suggested a new recruitment model might involve "a complete contracting to the Medical Society of Prince Edward Island to take responsibility for doing recruiting," or see the society working "shoulder-to-shoulder" with government staff currently involved in physician recruitment.
Referring to a medical society survey of Island doctors that found more than half are planning to leave, retire, or scale back their practices over the next five years, Bannon said, "I don't like to overuse the word crisis, but I think that is equivalent to an incredible challenge."
"Half of our workforce is going to diminish within five years.… The recruitment process probably needs to be overhauled because of the challenges we're looking at."
'Everything's on the table'
P.E.I.'s new Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward said based on early discussions with the society he's "extremely optimistic that this collaborative approach is going to bear fruit."
But he said no specific plan has been identified to give doctors a more active role in recruiting colleagues to fill positions on P.E.I.
"Right now everything's on the table to be honest," Aylward said, acknowledging approaches could involve providing information packages for doctors to use in recruitment efforts, or offering financial incentives to doctors who help fill positions.
As of Tuesday, there were 13,586 people registered on the province's patient registry waiting to be assigned a new family doctor. That's equivalent to roughly one of every 11 Island residents.
Aylward said the province has recruited 13 new doctors so far in 2019 and four of those have already arrived and started practising.
But he said government hasn't yet fulfilled one commitment made by the Progressive Conservatives during the spring election campaign: to increase the number of positions for family doctors on P.E.I.
Looking to add more doctors
According to government the current complement is 94 full-time equivalent positions. The PCs promised to increase that to 100.
"That's something we're reviewing right now. There's a process that needs to go through," Aylward said.
Currently we're trapped in a situation where we're always just trying to fill vacancies. — Dr. David Bannon
According to that process, a body known as the physician resource planning committee makes recommendations to the minister on the number of family doctors and specialists P.E.I. should have, as well as where those positions should be located. The committee includes representatives from Health PEI and the Medical Society of P.E.I.
"We know that there's a need already" for more family doctors, Aylward said. "We just have to look at the patient registry."
But Aylward said there was no timeline as to when the committee might deliver a recommendation on new positions for family doctors.
The medical society says the province needs to move beyond filling doctor vacancies and come up with a plan that outlines what physicians and services will be required five or 10 years into the future.
"We've never had a comprehensive physician resource plan that looked at what our critical needs are in the system, not just physician workforce, but also what's the appropriate menu of services?" said Bannon.
"Currently we're trapped in a situation where we're always just trying to fill vacancies. We're always trying to keep up with the same services and respond to those crises. We need to get ahead of it and find a plan that's going to work for Islanders going forward."
Aylward said government will start on that work by looking at succession planning, based on the medical society's concerns about the number of doctors planning to retire.
"We really need to drill down there and identify how soon doctors are retiring, what areas they're retiring from and then make sure that we're allocating the proper resources to the proper areas all across Prince Edward Island," said Aylward.