Dedicated emergency doctors will provide immediate solution, says health minister

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Montague ER closed again Tuesday afternoon

Hiring doctors to work specifically in the emergency department of Kings County Memorial Hospital will keep it open, says P.E.I. Health Minister Robert Mitchell, but the Opposition says a new kind of thinking is needed.

The emergency department in Montague is plagued with unscheduled closures due to doctor shortages, closures that continued despite a new plan implemented June 1.

On Tuesday, the province announced it would hire doctors to work specifically in the emergency department.

"We need to find immediate solutions," said Mitchell.

"We'll get the doors open, keep them open."

Old-style thinking, says Opposition

But in the legislature Opposition health critic Sidney MacEwen expressed doubts about the plan.

MacEwen said the government is operating under old-style thinking. The government has always struggled to recruit doctors and that will continue given competition from other provinces. The solution, he said, is to improve primary health care.

"We know 35 per cent of the people who are appearing at the Montague ER are not emergent. They could be going to a walk-in clinic," said MacEwen.

"The walk-in clinic in Souris has been closed for all of June, the walk-in clinic with a nurse practitioner in Morell is one day a week. There's no access to service in Kings County. That's how you fix it."

The solution for improving primary care, said MacEwen, is not with difficult-to-recruit doctors, it is through allowing other health practitioners, such as nurse practitioners, registered nurses and pharmacists to put their training to better use, and treat more patients in a wider variety of cases.

Change coming July 1

Mitchell said his first priority is to make sure the KCMH emergency is open when it's supposed to be.

The changes will come into effect July 1, he said, and the province has already lined up locums to take the positions until permanent doctors can be found.

The change will also improve primary care, he said, by freeing up local family physicians who are currently putting in 14-hour shifts at the emergency in addition to running their family practices.

As for recruitment, Mitchell said it will be much easier to recruit dedicated emergency doctors, as opposed to family doctors who can have a variety of duties with uncertain hours.

"If you're going to be a dedicated ER physician, you know your hours, you know you're done, you know you're not going to hospital to re-visit with patients there," he said.

"It is a little be easier to recruit that type of physician."

Mitchell said the government is also looking at scope of practice.

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