P.E.I. in talks to greenlight private clinic to clear cataract surgery backlog

P.E.I.’s health minister says government has received a proposal from a group of ophthalmologists and optometrists who want to open their own eye clinic in Charlottetown.

Public records show that last year two physicians, Dr. Ibrahim Elaraoud and Dr. William Best, purchased the Charlottetown space that once held a Bed, Bath and Beyond. 

Health Minister Mark McLane says the prospective practice believes it could double its output of non-complex surgical cases.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings, we’re at the proposal and discussion stage, but I think it’s important to emphasize it would remain publicly funded, universal access, so there’s some advantages and some outputs that would increase,” he told reporters after hinting about the idea in question period Thursday.

“Our cataract wait times are unacceptable, so we will continue to talk to that group to see what kind of solutions are available.”

P.E.I. has about 2,500 people on the waitlist. The national benchmark for how long most people in Canada should have to wait for cataract surgery is 112 days. 

But on Thursday in the legislature, interim Green Party leader Karla Bernard shared the story of an Islander who will wait over 1,000 days to have their surgery.

“This individual was diagnosed in June of 2022 and is told his surgery won’t take place for another year from now,” she said.

You can’t jump the line, you won’t be able to pay more … to access the service. We are not doing that.— Mark McLane, P.E.I. minister of Health and Wellness

Limited available operating room time has been cited as the reason for the delays.

The province’s health authority has said it is changing the way it tracks wait times after a P.E.I. auditor general’s report said reporting wasn’t up to national standards.

McLane said if the clinic does go forward, about 10 per cent of procedures would still take place in hospital, as more complex procedures require an anesthesiologist on site.

“Anything we can do to work at that waitlist, I think we need to consider.”

Not a plan to privatize, minister says

Health P.E.I. confirmed that both doctors are currently fee-for-service physicians with the authority, so they do not draw a salary, but rather bill the province for their time.

The proposed physician-owned clinic would be the same — similar to how many family doctors operate.

Islanders on the waitlist for eye surgeries will soon have more options

P.E.I. Health Minister Mark McLane says two physicians who bought a Charlottetown building last year have created a proposal to turn it into an eye clinic. He explains why this model will help bring the cataract surgery waitlist down from 2,500 people, and how it’s different than privatized health care.

“Our position is that, again, you can’t jump the line, you won’t be able to pay more … to access the service. We are not doing that. I can’t stress that enough,” the minister said.

“Hospital space is challenging, so this is a unique opportunity to take advantage of some of our space restrictions.”

McLane says he believes Prince Edward Island is one of the last provinces to implement this model.

Last year Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced plans to send more surgeries to privately run clinics. That was to clear a backlog for procedures like hip and knee replacements and cataract removals.

Critics have said such a plan is a slippery slope to a two-tier health-care system.

The federal government has said it will insist provinces adhere to the Canada Health Act, which requires universal access to publicly funded health services covered by provincial and territorial plans, and bans user charges and extra-billing.

McLane said the province is not interested in doing anything that may jeopardize its federal health transfers.

There is no timeline on the opening of the clinic.


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