PEI

P.E.I. goes online to address child psychiatrist shortage

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition raised concerns in the legislature Tuesday about a new program linking Island children electronically with psychiatrists on the mainland.

Opposition calls telepsychiatry for children "deporable," demands face-to-face appointments

"Delivering child psychiatry services to Island children and youth through Skype would seem to be a stop-gap effort," said Opposition health critic James Aylward during question period. (iStock)

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition raised concerns in the legislature Tuesday about a new program linking Island children electronically with psychiatrists on the mainland.

In response to questions from the Opposition, Health and Wellness Minister Robert Henderson told the House the province launched a telepsychiatry service in February.

That service is being used to address a shortage of child psychiatrists currently operating in the province. The province has two positions for child psychiatrists but only one is currently practicing. The second is on maternity leave and Health PEI has been unable to find a locum replacement.

P.E.I. Opposition health critic James Aylward raised concerns in the legislature Tuesday about a new program linking Island children electronically with psychiatrists on the mainland. (CBC)

"Delivering child psychiatry services to Island children and youth through Skype would seem to be a stop-gap effort," said Opposition health critic James Aylward during question period.

"How did we get to the point where we're forced to use off-Island psychiatrists to do triage by Skype?"

Not ideal, says minister

"Obviously [there are] situations [that] occur when it comes to recruiting and retaining physicians, for whatever the specialty would be," Henderson responded.

"Although I would not say that it is the ideal situation, it is at least providing the services and needs that children require when it comes to psychiatric services in this province."

Aylward later told reporters families had been reaching out to him to complain about audio and video problems with the service.

Diagnosis should be face-to-face, says opposition

"To be honest I think it's deplorable," said Alyward.

"I've heard from several families now that have reached out to me. Modern technology is great. But having a child psychiatrist face-to-face in the same room with a child who's experiencing mental health issues, there's no alternative for that."

"Although I would not say that it is the ideal situation, it is at least providing the services and needs that children require when it comes to psychiatric services in this province," said P.E.I.'s Minister of Health and Wellness Robert Henderson in question period. (CBC)

A government spokesperson said the province has 15 full-time-equivalent positions for psychiatrists, with two of those being for child psychiatrists.

The government said vacancies within the psychiatric complement "would have an impact on wait times," but offered no specific wait time measurements.

The government said the second child psychiatrist will return to service in October 2017.

Child waited 13 days in ER for mental health bed: PCs

Aylward also brought up the issue of wait times to be placed in one of the province's limited number of mental health beds designed for children and youth.

"Recently, I talked to a desperate parent whose child spent 13 days in the psychiatric ER ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital because of overcrowding in the youth wing at Unit 9," Aylward told the House.

"Do you think that the $2 million a year that you've negotiated for mental health programs over the next 10 years will be able to address the overcrowding problem in our youth mental health situation here on PEI?" Aylward asked, referring to the province's new health accord with Ottawa.

New youth inpatient unit hasn't materialized

Aylward said the same youth came back to the hospital, this time suicidal, and was once again forced to wait for a mental health bed to open up.

"These are very complex and challenging issues and I'm sure that Island families that experience these situations – my empathy is there for them," Henderson responded. "We will continue to work on trying to make the best investments that we can to alleviate those issues."

In 2014 Health PEI announced it would create a new 12-bed youth mental health inpatient unit in Charlottetown. The commitment was repeated as part of the 2015 Liberal election platform, but in 2016 Health PEI told a government committee it had been unable to develop the unit with the funding provided by government.

On Tuesday Aylward told reporters he and his party would continue to pressure government to honour that commitment.

About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca