Liberals question minister on doctor and psychiatrist complement, recruitment

Health care was a big topic in question period on Wednesday.

After Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward faced questions on nursing shortages from a fellow PC MLA, the Liberals asked him about recruitment of family doctors and psychiatrists.

Heath MacDonald asked about the recruitment of psychiatrists, and questioned Aylward on why the complement was increased earlier this year when, "it's almost impossible to reach that complement." 

Aylward said it's "not good enough" to set a low benchmark. 

"We need to set the benchmark high so that we can achieve to that number," he said. 

David Donnelly/CBC

In July, government committed to adding 5.8 full-time equivalent psychiatrist positions to help deal with a backlog of referrals.

However, Aylward said that will take more money and the funding still has to be approved by the Treasury Board.

Family doctor complement

Liberal health critic Gord McNeilly questioned Aylward about family doctor shortages and why government hasn't increased the provincial complement to 100, from the current 95, as the PCs promised during the election.

"In June of this year the number of Islanders on the patient registry was 13,500. Since then the number has risen to 15,376," he said.

Aylward said government does still intend to increase the complement, but he said for now his department is focused on other measures.

Physician recruitment here on Prince Edward Island is probably one of the most important issues that I have within my department. — Health Minister James Aylward

"We are looking at designing a health-care system that will be new, that will be bold," Aylward said.

Aylward said the province is working on recruitment, hoping to increase the number of medical residency positions to train new doctors. Right now, five medical students from the Dalhousie faculty of medicine are assigned each year to complete their residencies on P.E.I.

The province is in discussions with the university to increase that number to seven, Aylward said. He said doing so would help the province fill positions when the complement is eventually increased. 

He said the province is also close to reaching an agreement with the Medical Society of P.E.I. to get doctors more directly involved in recruitment efforts — another promise from the PC election platform.

2nd day facing health-care questions

It was the second day in a row Aylward faced questions on doctor recruitment in the House.

Government of P.E.I.

On Tuesday, Liberal MLA Sonny Gallant said the Conservative's platform promised new resources for doctor recruitment, but the mandate letter for the minister and his department has softer language and says "it will review recruitment."

"Why has government softened this commitment on finding new doctors?" Gallant asked.

Aylward said that wasn't the case, and his mandate letter highlights several important topics.

"Physician recruitment here on Prince Edward Island is probably one of the most important issues that I have within my department," he said. 

In an email, a government spokesperson told CBC there are 7.52 vacant full-time equivalent family physician positions.

"There are two physicians set to start in 2020, and recruitment is ongoing for the remaining vacancies," the email said.

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