PCs pounded on health care on opening day of P.E.I. Legislature
Premier says some of 20,000 on patient registry could end up in a 'medical neighbourhood'
Dennis King's PC government was pounded over delays and frustrations with the health-care system on the opening day of the fall sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday.
At the top of the list of issues for both opposition parties: the 20,197 Islanders now listed on the province's patient registry, looking for a new primary care provider.
"That means about one in eight Islanders rely on walk-in clinics and emergency rooms to access health-care services," said Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker.
"But perhaps the most worrying thing about this situation is that it is getting steadily worse."
"I think that health care across the country has been challenged, and that is certainly the case here on Prince Edward Island," replied Premier Dennis King, saying he agreed with much of what Bevan-Baker was saying.
But as both opposition parties kept hammering away, the premier took a more combative tone.
Green health critic Michele Beaton asked about bottlenecks in emergency rooms swamped with people with no other options to see a doctor, and the strain that's putting on staff.
'Islanders are suffering'
"Our frontline workers are suffering. Islanders are suffering," Beaton said.
"This crisis began under the former Liberal government and has only become worse under the leadership of this government."
King responded, saying "How about instead of promising a doctor for every Islander that could never be delivered, we say we're going to put our big boy pants on here and do what's right for the people of P.E.I. and to change the system?"
How about instead of promising a doctor for every Islander that could never be delivered, we say we're going to put our big boy pants on here and do what's right for the people of P.E.I. and to change the system?— Premier Dennis King
The promise of a doctor for every Islander helped get the Liberals elected under Robert Ghiz in 2007. But, as King has pointed out before, the promise was never fulfilled and his government won't try.
"That can't be delivered," King said in the legislature Tuesday. "I can't give the 20,000 people on the registry a family doctor, but I can connect them to a medical home or neighborhood that has a bevy of services, including family doctors, GPs, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, mental health nurses, all kinds of services."
The King government has promised five "medical neighbourhoods," collaborative, multi-disciplinary practices to provide primary care.
But so far the government hasn't even announced where most of those practices will be located, and there was no progress update on their development Tuesday. In an interview with media, Health Minister Ernie Hudson said a "road map" on primary care would be released by government in November.
Delays in mobile mental health, midwifery
The King government was also challenged over delays in launching a number of new health-care services, from midwifery to mobile mental health response units, and in developing a replacement for P.E.I.'s aging psychiatric hospital. Construction on that facility has yet to begin, and isn't expected to be completed until the winter of 2024-2025.
"When the NHL says that its new season will begin on Tuesday, October 12th, you can safely mark that date in your calendar and expect to enjoy some hockey that evening," said Bevan-Baker.
"When you promised shovels in the ground on day one, way back in 2019, to commence work on the new Hillsborough Hospital, when did you think Islanders expected construction to begin?" he asked the premier.
The vacancy rate among health-care professionals across the Island is literally shocking and it is evidence of a government that either has no plan or is simply trying to shrink the system.— Liberal MLA Robert Henderson
The Liberals also raised the issue of 700 vacant positions with the provincial health authority, Health PEI, providing media with a detailed breakdown, showing there were recently 199 vacancies at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and 105 at Prince County Hospital.
"The vacancy rate among health-care professionals across the Island is literally shocking and it is evidence of a government that either has no plan or is simply trying to shrink the system," said Henderson, asking the premier how much money the province was saving by not paying those 700 salaries.
"This is a very challenging field in the most challenging time in the last 100 years," the premier said about the health-care system.
"There are a number of vacancies where it's really difficult to find health human resources, and that's across the board."
King said that's why government is investing in a new medical school at UPEI, and both UPEI and Holland College have recently announced expansions in their nurse training programs.