Health Minister James Aylward told the legislature Wednesday he is in talks with Dalhousie and Memorial universities in hopes of increasing the number of residency positions in P.E.I.
Aylward says he is hoping that the number of residency positions from the Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine for the Island can be increased from five to seven per year. Similar discussions are being held with the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University in Newfoundland.
Aylward said training more physicians in P.E.I. will help deal with the shortage of doctors on P.E.I. Currently, more than 15,300 Islanders do not have a family physician.
“The residency program over the years has proven to be the most effective way of recruiting physicians,” Aylward said.
Graduated medical students pursue a residency after they have graduated, as part of their training.
The increase in residency positions will require an increase in physicians willing and able to train new students, Aylward said, adding he is hoping to see the new residents begin as early as next year.
Aylward also said his department is negotiating an agreement with the Medical Society of P.E.I. that would establish a role for physicians in recruiting other physicians.
Aylward received a volley of questions from the opposition Liberals focused on health-care staffing shortages.
"What was the point of increasing the complement, which was a paper exercise, if the psychiatrists are not available to fill those positions? Is it political positioning or was it a good news announcement of the day?”
-Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald
Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald asked Aylward about his recent decision to increase the complement of psychiatrists from 15 to 21.
"What was the point of increasing the complement, which was a paper exercise, if the psychiatrists are not available to fill those positions,” MacDonald asked Aylward.
“Is it political positioning or was it a good news announcement of the day?”
Aylward said he had observed “slippage” of psychiatry services in P.E.I. under the previous Liberal government.
"Any announcement that this government makes is a commitment to improving access and services here on P.E.I." Aylward said.
A government representative said the Island currently has a full-time equivalent of 14.25 psychiatrists working on P.E.I., below the existing complement of 15. The increase in the complement of psychiatrists to 21 still requires approval from treasury board.
Aylward also faced questions from fellow Progressive Conservative Cory Deagle about nursing shortages at the Kings County Memorial Hospital.
Deagle said he has heard as many as 22 nurses working at the Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague have recently quit.
He said 8.4 full-time equivalent positions are needed for KCMH to operate over the 12-hour day. Currently there are 5.5.
"Nurses are being asked by management to figure out how much overtime they can work to meet the 8.4 mark. And if not, well they're just being told ‘we're just going to close down the emergency room,’” Deagle said.
Aylward said the province had recruited 56 registered nurses over the last “number of months".
He also said he met with UPEI staff in hopes of increasing the number of seats in the nursing program. He also said he has met with frontline staff at KCMH and had not about the issues raised by Deagle.
“If any individual who works in the HC system ever, ever wants to speak to the minister of health, I am available,” Aylward said.