P.E.I. government pulls bill to streamline doctor recruitment over concerns about rural health care

P.E.I.’s Minister of Health Ernie Hudson told the legislature Tuesday a bill he had said would make it easier to recruit doctors won’t be called for debate this sitting, over concerns about how it could affect health care in rural communities.

Health P.E.I. CEO calls the move ‘disappointing,’ blames ‘political misinformation,’ ‘fearmongering’

The P.E.I. government had put forward a legislative amendment which would have done away with physician complements in the province, as well as the committee whose role is to maintain them. (Thomas Kienzle/The Canadian Press)

P.E.I.'s Minister of Health Ernie Hudson told the legislature Tuesday a bill he had said would make it easier to recruit doctors won't be called for debate this sitting.

Both opposition parties had raised repeated concerns the changes proposed to the Health Care Services Act would ultimately lead to further centralization of health-care delivery in the province and a lack of doctors in rural areas.

Hudson had previously defended the proposed changes on multiple occasions, saying they would allow the province to hire doctors faster without negatively affecting rural health care.

"Will the bill be brought to the floor this session or did you reconsider and finally realize the harm it could cause to rural P.E.I.?" Hudson was asked during question period Tuesday by Liberal MLA Hal Perry.

"The bill will not be brought to the floor this session," Hudson responded.

"We listen to concerns, we take those concerns under consideration.… We want to make sure that any legislation that comes forward will protect rural health care."

Calls of concern from 'right across the Island'

The amendment would have done away with physician complements in the province, which stipulate how many positions there are in each region for family doctors and specialists.

It also would have eliminated the physician resource planning committee, which makes decisions around changes to the complement.

Hudson told reporters he received calls from "right across the Island" from people expressing concerns about the change, "more so in rural areas … with regard to the elimination of the complement."

P.E.I.'s Health Minister Ernie Hudson says Islanders have been reaching out to him with concerns over a bill that was meant to streamline the process of doctor recruitment, based on the impact they feel it could have on access in rural areas. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

Hudson said the bill would be re-introduced during the spring sitting with changes, and in the meantime explained he could use his power to issue ministerial orders as needed to try to expedite the process of hiring doctors.

Opposition MLAs said they would support measures to make it easier to hire doctors, but not at the expense of getting rid of the complement, which many see as necessary to ensure there are positions for doctors in rural areas serving their constituents.

Islanders deserve equal access to care, says MLA

"I was elected to represent my constituents and their needs and to advocate on their behalf," Perry told reporters. He represents the district of Tignish-Palmer Road, at the far western tip of the Island.

"All Islanders deserve equal access to quality and timely health care and I will stand up any day and advocate for my district."

Green MLA Michele Beaton said one of her problems with the bill is that government never explained its larger plan for physician staffing once complements and the physician resource planning committee were a thing of the past.

"I'm not sold on the fact that just because every other province doesn't have a complement system, P.E.I. should follow suit," she said.

Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam at podium for Health P.E.I. AGM
Health P.E.I.'s CEO Dr. Michael Gardam says the decision to pull a bill from the legislature was based on a 'political misinformation campaign.' (CBC)

Beaton said she was hoping Hudson would call the bill for debate "so we could have had this discussion, so that the public understood exactly what they were going to accomplish."

Decision based on 'political misinformation,' says CEO

The CEO of Health P.E.I. Dr. Michael Gardam, who had advocated for the changes as a way to eliminate red tape in the doctor hiring process, called the news the bill was pulled "disappointing" in a statement to CBC.

"This will continue to make it harder for P.E.I. to hire physicians compared to anywhere else in Canada," he said.

Gardam said rural doctors are already able to move to Charlottetown or Summerside because there are vacancies they could fill.

"It is disappointing that a political misinformation campaign and, frankly, fear mongering about this issue has allowed red tape to continue to exist for the time being."


Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.