Sask. NDP says ‘systematic changes’ needed to curb surgical wait times

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The Opposition NDP is calling on the government for more “innovations” to reduce the rising number of people waiting three or more months for surgery in the province.

There were more than 9,000 people waiting three or more months for surgery as of December 2017, a steady increase since the end of the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative, a program aimed at ending such wait times. 

“What I really see here is a situation where the government threw money at it for a period of time, had less money around but didn’t make the systemic changes … required to keep waiting times down,” Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili said.

The province invested $176 million in surgical services for the initiative between 2009 and 2014. Another $60.5 million was committed the following year to support the surgeries necessary to meet the three-month wait target. 

Opposition leader Ryan Meili is calling on the government to make good on its promise to reduce wait times. He said private clinics aren’t helping to decrease the number of people on waiting lists. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Minister of Rural and Remote Health Greg Ottenbreit said the number of people waiting three or more months now sits at around 7,500 people. He added that 79 per cent of people are getting surgery on the offered date within three months while 91 per cent of people are getting it within six months.

Ottenbreit blamed two things for the increasing wait times: more people in Saskatchewan and an aging population.

“When we look at some of the other pressures that really bump some of [the wait times] back, it’s more the cataracts, the joint surgeries that we’re seeing some of the more senior population needing,” Ottenbreit said on Monday.

Minister of Rural and Remote Health Greg Ottenbreit said the reason for a ‘slight uptick’ in people waiting longer than three months for surgery is due to a growing and aging population. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Ottenbreit cited a report by the Fraser Institute, authored by former NDP Finance Minister Janice MacKinnon, which said private clinics in the province were helping to reduce wait times in Saskatchewan. 

Meili disputed that private clinic are helping. He pointed out that surgical wait times dropped just as quickly in Saskatoon as they did in Regina, even without private medical care available at the time.

“Despite those [private] centres continuing to exist, the number is climbing when the money went away.”

Still, Ottenbreit said the province is happy with waiting times as they’re the second-lowest in Canada. The wait time for bladder cancer surgery is about 30 days in Saskatchewan compared to 60 days nationally, he said.

“We do have a very high performing system but we know there’s more to do,” Ottenbreit added.

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