Opposition presses health minister on doctor shortage, patient registry

PC Leader James Aylward took government to task over the shortage of doctors in western P.E.I. and the patient registry on Wednesday.

Province working to recruit new doctors, health minister says

Opposition Leader James Aylward says West Prince is in a crisis over the lack of access to family physicians. (David Donnelly/CBC)

PC Leader James Aylward took government to task over the shortage of doctors in western P.E.I. and the patient registry on Wednesday.

He said in the P.E.I. Legislature that there are three family physician vacancies in West Prince and limited access to walk-in clinics. 

"There's 3,000 residents of West Prince that have no family doctor and again some of these individuals have had no access to a family doctor for well, well over a year," Aylward said. 

"Why are these residents being told by your government not to put their names on the patient registry?" questioned Aylward to Health Minister Robert Mitchell. "It's quite clear and quite evident that the patient registry is not working. In fact, I would have to say it's actually broken."   

Keeping patients together best when doctors leave, says minister

Mitchell said when physicians leave or retire, people do have the option of going on the patient registry. He said there are about 9,000 people on it province-wide.

P.E.I. PC Party leader James Aylward questioned the health minister about the doctor shortage and patient registry. (P.E.I. Legislature)

"When a doctor retires, it's often the best to kind of keep their panel together, so that when we do find a new doctor or a new doctor comes or even a locum, in that matter, that will take on these patients, they transition as a group of a panel. That's very important," said Mitchell. "It's easier to transition full panel sizes to new doctors."

He said government is fully aware of the situation and recruiting doctors to rural areas is an ongoing and challenging issue, which many jurisdictions face.

"They're all out trying to recruit the same individual to come to their jurisdictions to do work in their healthcare systems. This is not new," said Mitchell. 

Diligently recruiting physicians

Mitchell said the province is diligently recruiting doctors and doctors from across the Island have been helping fill in in the meantime. 

Health Minister Robert Mitchell says the province is diligently working at recruiting doctors to P.E.I. (P.E.I. Legislature)

"They don't sit in their office and make calls from their telephones. They're out, they're working with others, and they're trying to attract the best health professionals to our province," said Mitchell. 

Aylward suggested using private recruiters, however Mitchell said the province's recruitment team already does network with private headhunters to attract doctors.

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Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.