Doctors fail to swallow own medicine

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P.E.I. College of Physicians

College drags heels on processes to approve more physicians for P.E.I.

Health Minister Doug Currie delivered this diagnosis to Island doctors last week: If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. What is extraordinary about this time-honoured adage is Mr. Currie is making his conclusion based on observations about the conduct of the P.E.I. College of Physicians and Surgeons.

It is a rare reversal of form to see a patient prescribing treatment for physicians, but for a minister of health to publicly scold a major stakeholder in the province’s health-care system is unusual indeed. It also illustrates the growing frustration of the minister with the college in one particular area.

Government is usually accused of delays and inefficiencies caused by bureaucratic red tape. Mr. Currie is suggesting that problem is plaguing the college.

The issue, as Mr. Currie argues, is the college’s snail-like accreditation processes to approve new doctors for the province. They are too long and complicated. Red tape and delays are scaring away some potential full-time and temporary doctors.

Just as frustrating for the minister is the college’s apparent refusal to change its procedures. The minister says he first raised the issue two years ago and little has been done since.

He points out the province spends $50 million annually for patient services out of province and can’t understand why there is such a long, drawn-out process to license physicians in P.E.I.

This is the second time in two weeks Minister Currie has either criticized or appears to have criticized Island doctors.

The first incident was when he released documents in the legislature which showed that Health P.E.I paid doctors more than $67 million over their annual salaries last year — for both fee-for-service and contract payments. These are payments in addition to the doctors’ base salaries, which range from $144,000 and $312,000.

 Doctors earn the additional money through on-call retainers and by working shifts in hospitals, corrections facilities, nursing homes and walk-in clinics. Many Island doctors earned more than $100,000 on top of their annual salaries through fee for service or contract work.

The inference is obvious and supports his latest salvo that more doctors are needed to reduce wait times for patients. Letters to the editor in recent weeks have been dominated by complaints from Islanders who had horror-story, wait-time issues in the ER at the QEH.  

The criticism is being directed at Mr. Currie and he apparently feels there is lots of blame to go around, hinting that perhaps doctors are part of the problem by dragging their heels on licensing more physicians.

Doctors must feel they would lose opportunities to make more money if more physicians are hired. If there is always a doctor shortage, then physicians will have more bargaining power and are better able to hold government hostage.

Physician salaries have almost doubled since 2007 and make up a sizable proportion of his total health budget of $619 million. Health P.E.I. will spend $320 million this year to pay the salaries of doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

The past president of the P.E.I. Medical Society said just over a year ago that many physicians in P.E.I. are overloaded and their health is suffering as a result. Dr. Rachel Kassner said physician shortages in the province, especially in rural areas, are putting greater pressures and stress on doctors. Those shortages have been leading to numerous coverage problems in rural areas of both western and eastern P.E.I.

Mr. Currie wants the college to streamline its accreditation processes and start approving more doctors for this province — for the common good of all.

It begs the question why doctors are not following a prescription on a condition diagnosed by their past president? Mr. Currie, and indeed all Islanders, are interested in the answer.

Organizations: P.E.I. College of Physicians, Health P.E.I, QEH P.E.I. Medical Society

Geographic location: P.E.I., Many Island, P.E.I.This Eastern P.E.I.Mr

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  • Christine Hawes
    May 08, 2014 - 21:13

    Doug Currie, what is your favourite Scotch? I want to buy you a bottle.