MICHELE BEATON: The waiting times in PEI healthcare are getting longer and longer

Michele Beaton, MLA, representing Mermaid-Stratford and the Opposition Green’s official critic on health and wellness, provided the following opinion piece.


Since my election, I’ve heard countless stories about long wait times in our healthcare system—from waiting in the emergency room to waiting for needed surgeries. It is heartbreaking to hear from families whose loved ones live in excruciating pain for months and often years while waiting for help.

While long waits are nothing new, a growing number of healthcare workers are expressing concern that our already long waits are getting worse.

MRI and CT

A patient in PEI can expect to wait up to 214 days for a non-urgent MRI scan — such as imaging needed for knee surgery. The “target” wait time for a non-urgent MRI should be less than 84 days — a length of time that Canadian experts say is a reasonable maximum wait time for most patients (90 percent). Only 25 percent of Iceland patients receive an MRI during the target time.

For a CT scan, the waiting time is 106 days for Iceland patients classified as non-urgent. The “target” wait time for a non-urgent CT is 56 days.

Access to imaging services affects health in a number of ways. One of the most devastating effects is delays in necessary operations. These delays can mean that the person not only lives in excruciating pain for an extended period of time, but also deteriorates physically.

The emergency room at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.  Health officials this summer have warned of longer-than-average wait times in emergency rooms, in part due to staff shortages caused by COVID-19 isolation, lack of holiday coverage and attrition.  - Stu Neatby
The emergency room at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. Health officials this summer have warned of longer-than-average wait times in emergency rooms, in part due to staff shortages caused by COVID-19 isolation, lack of holiday coverage and attrition. – Stu Neatby

life quality

I spoke to an athletic islander in his 30s who’s been waiting for an MRI on his knee for almost a year. He shared the toll it was taking on both his physical and mental health. His knee deteriorated so badly that he could no longer walk around the block without a cane.

Another man in his 70’s who was an avid golfer. He needed a hip replacement but had to wait a year. This delay led to increasing pain and he required a walker for mobility. Then he got back pain from compensating his hip and bending over his walker.

I also heard from a grandmother who was afraid to pick up her granddaughter while waiting for knee surgery because her knee would give out. In the time she was awaiting surgery, she was so dependent on her good leg that it also caused that knee to deteriorate to the point where it required surgery. She had to go through it all again.

Currently, patients with PEI have to wait 348 days, almost exactly a year, for a hip replacement. The waiting time for most knee replacement surgeries is up to 413 days. That’s over a year of painful waiting as you slowly lose your mobility and independence.

Why do we limit test times?

The need for imaging has increased over the past decade. As our population ages and increases, we need more MRIs and CTs. The quality of life must play a role in precisely these political decisions.

An islander asked me why we don’t test more hours a day. It’s a great question. The main reason for this is that we have not hired more staff needed to operate the equipment to keep up with demand.

Islanders donate millions of dollars each year to buy equipment, but the government has not allocated a budget for people’s actual use of the equipment.


Islanders donate millions of dollars each year to buy equipment, but the government has not allocated a budget for people’s actual use of the equipment.


Multiple problems

We need to start looking at every aspect of wait times. We need to make sure we have enough medical professionals to do the work needed to support surgeons and doctors.

For example, radiation technologists (MRI) have an unimaginable amount of work to do. I recently met with a couple of MRTs who are struggling with burnout and a lack of respect for their leadership.

Did you know that some MRIs have actually been “put off on burnout” by their doctors? Also, did you know that this was a problem long before COVID?

Just like we see in other areas of healthcare, these incredibly important workers are overworked, undervalued and disregarded. This has worsened under the royal government.

value worker

We need to start valuing healthcare workers instead of just treating them as cogs in a machine. They deserve fair wages, a healthy work-life balance, vacation time and to be consulted on decisions affecting their jobs.

Too often this government releases glossy documents, “reviews” and “plans” without even bothering to solicit the input of the experts on the front lines. This is disrespectful and bad leadership. Our frontline workers have the answers to our health crisis! They know what’s going on and they have great ideas on how to fix it. It is time for Premier King and his Health Secretary to listen and act.

PEI MLA Michele Beaton is the Green Health and Wellness Critic.  - Stu Neatby
PEI MLA Michele Beaton is the Green Health and Wellness Critic. – Stu Neatby

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