Help is coming to address the physician shortage in Prince County.
Kevin Barnes, director of health policy and programs for the Department of Health and Wellness, told The Guardian that two additional nurse practitioners will begin working in April.
Barnes and Rebecca Gill, manager of health recruitment and retention for the department, along with Health Minister Robert Mitchell, testified before the Standing Committee on Health and Wellness in Charlottetown on Tuesday.
“There are plans for two additional nurse practitioners that will be added in the western part of the province in April so there’s been work underway to make that happen,’’ Barnes told The Guardian following a two-and-a-half hour meeting with the standing committee.
Earlier this week, The Guardian published a story that the retirements of Dr. Herb Dickieson and Dr. Charles Dewar have put resident in West Prince in a tight spot, leaving 3,000 residents without a family physician.
On Tuesday, Tignish-Palmer Road MLA Hal Perry wanted to know if the Department of Health and Wellness would consider adding a locum.
“If we were able to secure somebody, say, for a six-month period of time to go in there, absolutely, we would do that,’’ Barnes told The Guardian in response to Perry’s question. “The recruitment effort, as it stands right now, would give consideration to locums, regardless.’’
However, a locum certainly wouldn’t be the first choice.
“A locum physician would be an interim or alternate solution to a permanent physician,’’ Barnes said. “When we’re recruiting we’re putting preference on getting a permanent physician in there, but they certainly don’t exclude consideration for locums.’’
Gill said right now they are focused on trying to hire 10 family physicians. That would give the province a full complement of 120 family physicians, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that every Islander would get a family doctor.
“We have a lot of wheels turning with the physician group,’’ Barnes said. “We have retirements . . . perhaps we have a retiring physician that is a fee-for-service and we’re replacing that with a salaried physician just new out of medical school. The ability of that physician to accept a full (list of patients) is a little bit challenging early on in their practice.’’
Gill will take her recruiting efforts to Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador next week. The province is looking at a number of retirements in the next few years.
“We’re looking at what we can do as a department and with Health P.E.I.,’’ Gill said. “How do we meet those needs knowing what’s ahead of us with potential retirements so it’s about offering different opportunities; different ways of delivering the service.’’
The province also has incentive programs to convince physicians to work in rural, remote areas.
“Those would be return-in-service-type grants where we would provide in addition to the salary we provide a grant that essentially requires the physician to work in that practice area for, say, a three-year period,’’ Barnes said. “We (also) have the family medicine sponsorship program . . . whereby we would sponsor a student early on in his medical education, providing them with funding to assist with the education. And, upon graduation and completion of the residency, that physician would be required to give a five-year return-in-service to the province in the area of greatest need.’’