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Sask. government touts record number of surgeries, despite lingering questions over its methods


Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health is touting a record number of surgeries performed in the last fiscal year, despite ranking last in the country for knee and hip replacement wait times.

According to the provincial government, health workers performed more than 95,700 surgeries in the last fiscal year, marking the highest annual surgical volume ever recorded. The number of surgeries conducted between April 1, 2023 and Match 31, 2024 surpassed the previous year’s high by almost 6,000 procedures.

“Particular emphasis is being placed on hip and knee replacement procedures, which are among the highest-volume procedures in Saskatchewan. Annual volumes for hip and knee replacement procedures increased to nearly 7,100 in 2023-24 from nearly 6,300 the previous year,” the province said in a news release on Tuesday.

A study from the Canadian Insitute for Health Information (CIHI) showed Saskatchewan had the longest wait times in the country for knee and hip replacements last year.

From April 1 to Sept. 30, 2023, median wait times were 318 days for knee replacements and 232 days for hip replacements, according to the CIHI data.

Saskatchewan ranked last across Canada in both lists. The national average for the two procedures is 161 and 131 days, respectively.

The provincial government says the surgical wait list has improved, with roughly 4,600 fewer patients waiting compared to March 2023. The number waiting over 18 months has decreased by 67 per cent.

The province says the 2024-25 budget allocated an additional $2.28 million to increase surgical volumes and further reduce waiting periods.

“The overall commitment by all members of the surgical teams has significantly reduced surgical wait times and increased volumes,” Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) Provincial Head of Surgery Dr. Michael Kelly said.

“Their dedication is what has made reaching this milestone possible. As a surgical program we want to continue to empower the people of Saskatchewan to be more engaged in their own unique surgical journey.”

The Ministry of Health says it hopes to maintain the momentum by focusing on improvements in orthopedic surgeries, investing in staffing, and expanding partnerships with private surgical providers.

The provincial NDP has been critical of the government's move to private surgical providers, which includes two sole-source contracts to an Alberta company the opposition says is also a Sask. Party donor. 

The company, Canadian Surgical Solutions, holds one contract to perform knee and hip surgeries in Calgary, and another to perform mammograms.

Whether these contracts are a prudent way to spend limited health care dollars are a matter for debate.

"Although the [Premier Scott] Moe government previously stated that Surgical Solutions is being paid approximately $2,000 per patient, private clinics in Ontario and British Columbia charge between $140 and $430 for mammograms, according to the Canadian Breast Cancer Network," the NDP said in a news release on Tuesday.

The provincial government says publicly funded, privately delivered surgical providers have performed approximately 15 per cent of the total number of surgeries completed in the province each year and since 2020, this increased to almost 18 per cent.

In its news release Tuesday, the province says SHA is continuing to make "process efficiencies" to improve the timeliness of surgical care, including the recently launched centralized referral intake for hip and knee replacements.

"These initiatives are helping to reduce wait times overall and, in the case of hip and knee replacements, providing access to the next available surgeon more quickly, while providing patients more choice in making decisions that work for them alongside their surgical team," SHA Provincial Surgical Services Executive Director Cindy Graham said.

-With files from David Prisciak and Rory MacLean Top Stories

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