COVID-19 largely to blame for P.E.I. not increasing medical residency seats: health minister

The number of medical residency seats has not increased in the three years since the former health minister committed to growing the count from five to seven. (Shutterstock - image credit)
The number of medical residency seats has not increased in the three years since the former health minister committed to growing the count from five to seven. (Shutterstock - image credit)

The Opposition took aim at the province in the legislature Wednesday over an unfulfilled promise from almost three years ago to the day — to increase the number of medical residency seats for Prince Edward Island.

Green MLA Michele Beaton raised that in November 2019, then health minister James Aylward had committed to increasing the number of medical residency seats at Dalhousie's medical school from five to seven.

Those are provincially-funded spaces at the Dalhousie University medical school that are reserved for Island students, and would lead to students completing their residencies on P.E.I.

"Question to the minister of health, how many residency seats do we have currently?" Beaton asked.

Health Minister Ernie Hudson responded: "There has been no increase, Mr. Speaker, in the number of residency seats but with that we are actively working with Dalhousie University to have those increased."

"That's verbatim of what the former minister said in 2019, three years and you're still saying the same thing," Beaton said.

'They made a promise'

Beaton said she's frustrated that the province hasn't increased the seat count in the three years since they announced it would. She said it's the "most impactful way" to increase the number of people working as frontline health-care staff.

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

"If we increased the residency seats then, foreseeably, we'd have more people staying to practice medicine here on P.E.I.," she told CBC News.

"I feel like government has completely let Islanders down. They made a promise … that is an easy win for government but government has sat on their hands for three years and they've done absolutely nothing."

Beaton said that the lack of residency seat increases comes down to a lack of targeted funding from government, but Hudson refutes that.

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

"It's pretty hard to state that funding is the factor that's holding it back, absolutely not," Hudson told CBC News. He said that COVID-19 carries the bulk of the responsibility for the delays.

The former health minister from 2019, James Aylward, had made the commitment just months prior to the beginning of the pandemic.

"It's impacted right across the board our health-care professionals," he said.

"We have to work with our partners … at Dalhousie, to increase those residency seats and it has been, and is being, actively worked on — but, again, over the last two, two-and-a-half-year period certainly COVID has had an impact in our ability to move that forward."

As of now there's no timeline for when those seats would increase, but Hudson said it's a priority for government.