Greens, Liberals question wisdom of UPEI medical school

The UPEI medical school, shown in this rendering, is expected to begin admitting students in 2025. (UPEI - image credit)
The UPEI medical school, shown in this rendering, is expected to begin admitting students in 2025. (UPEI - image credit)

P.E.I.'s Green and Liberal parties questioned whether a medical school at the University of Prince Edward Island was an effective solution for the province's health-care problems while on the campaign trail Wednesday.

All four parties held news conferences in the morning outlining their plans for addressing problems in the health-care system. The more than 28,000 Islanders waiting on the patient registry for a family doctor featured prominently in their remarks.

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker and Liberal Leader Sharon Cameron both said there are questions about the school that need to be answered. Cameron said the Liberals were prepared to put the school on hold if those questions remained unsettled.

Bevan-Baker went further, saying a Green government would press pause on the school until a feasibility study was completed. He added such study should have been done before the school was approved.

"Everything here is backwards. When you govern well, you ask yourself a question: Is this something we should do?" he said.

"It's very, very clear that our health system and the medical personnel in it are not able to support what is being proposed. And therefore we need to press pause on this."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Cameron said the medical school will not provide the immediate help the health-care system needs.

"We will not see a single new doctor graduate from that school until 2030. P.E.I.'s health care needs are right now. Islanders cannot afford to wait a decade for this government to resolve them," Cameron said.

"We're prepared to even look at it deeper and maybe even put it on hold until we really understand and ask some serious questions about the med school."

Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada
Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada

At the Progressive Conservative announcement, party leader Dennis King defended the plan to build a medical school.

"We're very happy with the university's approach. We know there's questions and challenges," he said.

"This is a good investment for P.E.I. It's a good investment in our health-care system. For the first time, we can feel like we're beginning to take control of our own destiny."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

King also outlined plans to address the patient registry. He said under a PC government, every Islander on it would have a primary health care provider within the next 24 months.

"Our primary care system was built in 1957," King said. "We have to stop trying to fix the system, and try to build and adapt a new one."

The party is putting its faith in medical homes, a model it launched in 2020 that puts a number of health-care providers — nurses, physiotherapists, dietitians and others along with a doctor — together under one practice to work collaboratively to serve patients.

The party is promising 16 new medical homes by the end of next year, adding that will be enough to serve everyone on the registry.

"It's zero in 24 months. That's what we're saying. We want to take everybody off the registry and attach them to a patient medical home or neighbourhood," said King.

"That's our ultimate goal."

King referenced former premier Robert Ghiz's promise to provide a doctor for every Islander, and said that's not possible. But with this approach he said every Islander can have access to primary health care.

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC

Further expansions to primary care would include nurse practitioner-run walk-in clinics and free access to telehealth services.

NDP Leader Michelle Neill, meanwhile, said her party will fight to ensure health care remains public and universally accessible for Islanders.

"Our health care is under threat of being sold off to for-profit companies; we're seeing that in other provinces where there are Conservative premiers, like Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba," she said.

"We have to ensure that all of our funding and recruitment dollars are used in that public system."