MLAs from all 3 parties agree to summon P.E.I.'s premier, health minister to discuss plan for health care

·3 min read
The Green Party called for an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on Health and Social Development on Wednesday to discuss ongoing health-care issues in the province. (Kerry Campbell/CBC - image credit)
The Green Party called for an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on Health and Social Development on Wednesday to discuss ongoing health-care issues in the province. (Kerry Campbell/CBC - image credit)

MLAs from all three parties agreed Wednesday to ask Prince Edward Island's premier and health minister to appear before the province's Standing Committee on Health and Social Development to provide an overview of the province's plan to navigate the ongoing crisis in health-care staffing.

The Green Party had called for an emergency meeting of the committee to have MLAs discuss the invitation.

"There is a public desire to know how we're going to move forward with health care," Green health critic Michele Beaton told committee members at the meeting.

"I would assume that leadership has developed a plan… I think the first step for this committee would be to see what is the plan that they've come up with."

From there, Beaton said the committee can decide whether to recommend changes or come up with a plan of its own.

Kerry Campbell/CBC
Kerry Campbell/CBC

PC MLA Sidney MacEwen accused the Greens of politicizing the issue by stoking fears of health-care privatization in the province, but agreed on the need for the committee to hear what the government has planned.

"We've got serious problems that I want to help get to the bottom of too," said MacEwen. "I want to know what's the coherent plan between the Department of Health and Health P.E.I ... what's going to happen in the next year to alleviate some of these problems?"

There have been frequent closures of rural emergency rooms on P.E.I. throughout the summer due to staffing shortages. Last week the province announced that people giving birth at Prince County Hospital in Summerside might not have access to an epidural, depending on when they were delivering.

There were 25,311 people on the province's patient registry as of Aug. 29, waiting to be assigned a primary caregiver.

Recently the only walk-in clinic in Summerside shut down for two weeks because the doctor who runs it needed a vacation.

Last week in a interview with CBC, Health Minister Ernie Hudson provided some points the government is working on, including creating new positions for nurse practitioners and expanding their scope of practice, along with steps to recruit more foreign-trained health-care professionals and make it easier for them to become accredited on P.E.I.

But Liberal MLA Robert Henderson said some of the minister's comments in the interview "raised eyebrows, because it's contrary to things he has said previously."

Having the minister appear before the committee, he said, could provide "some clarity and some sense of what the plan is here."

Kerry Campbell/CBC
Kerry Campbell/CBC

At the request of the Greens, the committee agreed to ask the premier's office for documents stemming from Dennis King's meeting last week with the premiers of Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to discuss health care.

The committee is also reaching out to other stakeholder groups for consultations, starting with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, a move suggested by Henderson.

It's not clear yet whether the minister or the premier will accept the committee's invitation to appear. While the committee has the power, rarely used, to compel witnesses to appear, there was no talk Wednesday of actually doing that.

Hudson appeared before the committee as recently as June, to discuss mental health services and long-term care.

A premier appearing before a standing committee would be a rare sight, but King did so in September of 2019, addressing a committee considering changes to the rules and functioning of the legislative assembly.