A shortage of surgeons is causing Prince County Hospital in Summerside, P.E.I. to divert all major trauma cases to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown for a four-day period, says a Health PEI memo obtained by CBC News and the Opposition Liberals.
The hospital, the Island's second largest, will not be able to provide surgery coverage from Friday, May 7, until 8 a.m. on Tuesday, May 11.
"PCH will be on diversion to the QEH for all major traumas during this time," the memo reads.
The memo goes on to say surgeries will be triaged at the emergency department in Summerside in consultation with the surgeon on call at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
During question period, Health Minister Ernie Hudson said he was not aware of the memo, which the Liberals made public in the P.E.I. Legislature on Friday.
Liberal Heath MacDonald, reading from the memo, said people in western P.E.I. could be two hours or more away from help this weekend with surgeries being diverted from Summerside to Charlottetown.
"This failure will place enormous pressure on our health care system," MacDonald said during question period.
"Your answer to the last question is kind of scary. I think all members in this house, and especially over on that side of the house, should get behind their minister, give him the support, find out what the heck is going on in Summerside. This is getting ridiculous. This is getting scary."
'It a personnel issue'
Hudson said people are not being put at risk. He said the emergency department at the Prince County Hospital remains open and paramedics are able to stabilize patients before they are transferred to the QEH.
Hudson added that as of Thursday, surgeries were covered for the weekend but something changed late Thursday night.
"As I understand it a personnel issue, that I am not going to get into details on, come up yesterday that this individual who was going to be providing services over the weekend was not going to be able to and for what reason, I really can't say," Hudson said in an interview with reporters.
As for the memo obtained by the Liberal opposition and the CBC, the health minister said he should have been made aware of the memo.
Two surgeons leaving next month
"I absolutely agree with the member that I should have had that letter before he did, and I will be absolutely looking into why I did not get that letter before the honourable member did. Long and the short, that is not acceptable."
Hudson acknowledged there are "human resource challenges" at Prince County Hospital.
Health PEI says one of the three general surgeons on staff at Prince County Hospital is resigning in June, and another surgeon, who is on a short-term locum contract, will also leave the same month.
The province says it's in talks with seven surgeons, and made an offer to one of them on Friday.
A statement from Health PEI Friday cautioned that until more surgeons can be recruited, there may be other gaps in surgery coverage at Prince County Hospital.
The statement also said the public will be notified when those diversions take place.
The acting CEO of Health PEI said in an earlier interview with CBC News that he's confident that by the summer, the staffing situation at the Summerside hospital will improve.
Dr. Michael Gardam said Health PEI is seeing "quite a bit" of interest from doctors to fill the positions in Summerside.
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