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Prince Edward Island patients receiving treatment in Halifax are being transferred back to P.E.I. and elective surgeries are being cancelled as health officials prepare for a possible nurses strike.
Nurses in the Halifax area can go on strike April 3 and have promised to defy legislation that declares them an essential service to force them back to work.
Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Richard Wedge said Wednesday a total of 22 P.E.I. patients currently in Halifax hospitals will be transferred back to Prince Edward Island, leaving only a handful who cannot be moved due to a need for specialized care.
Others who were supposed to go to Halifax for cardiac surgeries are being rerouted.
“Those are the ones that are going to have some delays, but we do have alternative places in New Brunswick,” Wedge said.
“It just may mean that they’re in hospital longer here in P.E.I. while they’re waiting for wherever they’re going.”
Elective surgeries scheduled for Islanders next week in Halifax have already been cancelled or postponed, which will result in longer delays for patients who have been waiting for their procedures.
This could also have impacts on wait times at hospitals in Prince Edward Island.
“We generally run a fairly high occupancy rate in our hospitals, so it means that some of our lower acuity people aren’t getting in or some of the elective admissions aren’t going to get in,” Wedge said.
“We haven’t really reached that point yet, but we may well by next week.”
The number of Islanders referred to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for medical services has grown steadily every year, topping out at 9,847 in 2012-13.
The P.E.I. government budgeted $45 million this year for out-of-province health services.
Health Minister Doug Currie often comments that P.E.I.'s second-largest hospital is in Halifax, because the province's second-largest hospital budget is for out-of-province services.
But those services could soon be out of reach for Island patients.
Mediated talks between the union that represents 2,400 Halifax nurses and the Capital Health District Authority reached an impasse on Sunday.
A key union demand is nurse-to-patient ratios, something it says would improve patient safety. But Capital Health says there is no evidence that shows mandated ratios guarantee improved patient safety.
Liason nurses who work for Health P.E.I. in Halifax are not involved in the dispute, but have been working closely with local health authorities to ensure Island patients receiving care in Nova Scotia or who have been referred there are diverted or transferred accordingly.
Wedge said if nurses in Halifax do strike and if it lasts more than a few days, it could have significant impacts on Island patients and hospitals.
“If the strike is prolonged (delays for surgeries) could occur if we need to free up some of our beds in surgery for medical patients, but right now we’re not sure that’s going to happen,” he said.
“If it lasts more than three or four days the impacts will start to be felt here in P.E.I. fairly significantly…. Obviously the best outcome for everybody would be for the strike to be settled and no strike to occur.”
With files from The Canadian Press.