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A new poll has revealed that health care is top of mind for Island voters as they head into an election next week.
The poll, carried out by Narrative Research (formerly Corporate Research Associates) and commissioned by The Guardian, showed 38 per cent of Island voters chose health care as the issue that should be the main priority of the government after April 23.
Housing was identified as the top priority by 14 per cent of voters, while accountability in government was the top pick of 12 per cent of voters. The environment and climate change were the choices of nine per cent of voters, while education was the key issue for eight per cent.
When examined by county, health care is the primary concern for 40 per cent of residents in Prince County and 54 per cent of those in Kings county. Thirty-four per cent of Queens county residents ranked health care as their most important issue.
Rural hospitals, such as the Kings County Memorial Hospital in Montague and Western Hospital in Alberton, have seen reductions in the operating hours of their emergency rooms and staff shortages in recent years. Across P.E.I., more than 13,000 Island residents do not have access to a family doctor.
- Islanders were asked which issue they believed should be the government’s main priority after the election:
- Health care 38 %
- Housing 14 %
- Accountability in government 12 %
- Environment/climate change 9 %
- Education 8 %
- Job creation 5 %
Kris Saunders of the Medical Society of P.E.I. says a physician resource plan is needed to help decision-makers plan for the current and future needs of the population. Such a plan could help identify how many doctors, nurses and health-care staff are needed now and in the future.
A survey conducted by MSPEI found that 56 per cent of Island physicians plan to either reduce their practice, leave the province or retire over the next five years.
"How do we replace physicians? It has to be done based on evidence of need. It has to be an independent study," Saunders said.
"We can't just decide we want this type of doctor on the Island because it suits some of us. There has to be a need, and it has to be based on evidence."
No party platform mentions the need to establish a physician resource plan or the need for a plan to meet the health-care staffing needs of Islanders in the future.
In a policy statement released in early April, MSPEI also urged political leaders to better involve doctors in health policy decision-making, to implement a model of primary care, to establish a single Electronic Medical Record system across the Island and to involve physicians more in retention and recruitment.
Mary Boyd of the P.E.I. Health Coalition sent a questionnaire to all four main parties in P.E.I., asking about their health-care commitments. The questionnaire asked parties whether they would commit to publicly-funded long-term care, expansion of homecare services and legislating staff-to-patient ratios, among other issues.
To date, Boyd says she has only heard back from the Green party and the NDP.
“It’s quite disconcerting that two major parties didn’t respond.” Boyd said, referring to the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.
Boyd said it is important to recognize the key role played by registered nurses, nurse practitioners and other allied health professionals.
“There are many, many things that nurses and nurse practitioners can do that doctors are doing now, and this would help ease the demand on doctors," Boyd said.
Boyd is encouraged that all political parties recognized the role of nurses and NPs in their platforms. However, she said she was concerned about the increasing role of the private sector, such as Medavie/Island EMS, in health-care delivery. Boyd said ambulance services should be a public.
She also said party promises to cut taxes were irresponsible, given the shortfalls facing the health-care system.
“If we tax fairly, we should have enough money to run an excellent health-care system," Boyd said.
"The fact that we're not achieving that tells us that the priorities are not there the way they should be."
More polling data to come
On Saturday, The Guardian will be releasing its final polling results showing the voting intentions of Islanders in the upcoming referendum on electoral reform. Watch for it on all The Guardian’s platforms.