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'Notoriously untransparent': Sask. budget to reduce surgery backlog has no plan behind it, expert says


Saskatchewan has no real strategy to perform more surgeries, according to a health policy analyst.

The province is spending $42 million for 6,000 more surgeries. It aims to conduct a total of 100,000 surgeries, and reduce the waitlist to its pre-pandemic level by March 2024.

“They’re pretty silent on how they're going to do that,” Steven Lewis, an adjunct professor of health policy at Simon Fraser University, told CTV News.

With a shortage of doctors and nurses in Saskatchewan, Lewis wonders how the province will hit its surgery target.

“A surgeon is a surgeon, and whether the surgeon is doing the procedure in a private facility, or the public facility, you're going to have a finite capacity,” Lewis says.

Surgeries are one of the only core medicare services that get contracted to private practices. Surgeons can operate in both publicly funded and private facilities.

Lewis questions the province’s motive for outsourcing surgery to the private sector. He says the contracts are “notoriously untransparent.”

“I don't see what the rationale is. If there's an economic case, make it transparent,” Lewis says.

“We never actually get to see how much they're paying for a procedure done in the private system compared to what it costs in the public system.”

The Ministry of Health did not provide the cost, or price difference, of public versus private surgeries but said private surgical centres increase capacity.

“Since the launch of private surgical centres in April 2010, third-party facilities in Regina and Saskatoon have provided much-needed additional day surgery capacity in the health system, performing roughly 13 per cent of the total number of surgeries completed in the province each year,” a statement from the ministry to CTV News, reads.

“These surgical procedures will remain publicly funded; in order to address our surgical wait list and improve access for our patients, we must take advantage of all opportunities to work with our partners to fully utilize the resources available.”

More than 34,000 patients are waiting for surgery in Saskatchewan, according to the latest data.

Twenty-four per cent of those patients have been waiting for more than a year. Orthopaedic surgery has the longest waitlist of 11,557 people.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), a data collection company funded by the provincial and federal governments, says the pandemic is largely responsible for longer wait times.

Since March 2020, CIHI found 937,000 fewer surgeries were performed across Canada.

In Saskatchewan, there were about 36,000 fewer surgeries.

CIHI found more patients aren’t receiving surgeries in the recommended time frame.

Tracy Johnson, the director of health system analytics at CIHI, says the data means more people are in pain longer, as they await their procedure.

“While it may not be life threatening for someone with a hip or knee replacement, not to get their surgery is uncomfortable pain,” Johnson says. Top Stories

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