SASKATOON -- The Saskatchewan NDP on Tuesday released what it says are a pair of internal Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) memos, outlining an "overcapacity crisis" at two Saskatoon hospitals.

One of the memos, sent Nov. 2, said 150 patients at Royal University Hospital and St. Paul's Hospital were "not where they should be" and as a result, the "ability to ensure patients are receiving the care they need" was affected.

Another memo from deputy medical health officer Dr. Phillip Fourie, sent Nov. 1, said as of 4 p.m. that day 79 patients required care with no spaces available.

Both memos had the phrase "Extreme overcapacity crisis in Saskatoon" in their subject line. 

"These documents clearly show that people are being let down when they go to the hospital," NDP leader Ryan Meili said in a news release. 

"The Sask. Party government keeps saying everything is fine in our hospitals, despite mounting evidence that hallway medicine is the norm."

Extreme pressures

In an emailed statement, the SHA said it has activated a "command centre" in Saskatoon as a result of overcapacity at the city's hospitals, in particular RUH and SPH.

The command centre includes physicians, nurses, support staff and managers, according to the SHA.

"For several weeks, clinical leaders have been working to deal with capacity issues, and our staff and physicians have been managing under extreme system pressures," the statement said.

The Nov. 1 memo from Fourie appears to hint at these pressures. A paragraph, with some lines in boldface type, emphasizes that when the Saskatoon command centre makes a request to SHA staff, it needs to be responded to urgently.

A request "means immediate action, and may require stepping away from planned meetings and other activities to mobilize the support and action required. We are relying on a provincial system to make this work," Fourie wrote. 

The SHA said it is working to open up space in the city's hospitals by safely moving patients needing long-term care into facilities where space is available and by moving patients who don't require hospital care to more appropriate settings.

While the situation in Saskatoon's emergency departments is leading to longer than usual waits for some patients, no one who needs emergency care will be turned away, the SHA said. 

However, the health authority is asking patients who do not require urgent care to go to a walk-in clinic instead.

Health Minister Jim Reiter addressed the issue in the Legislature.

“Short term in Saskatoon, there have been expanded hours added to the emergency room at (Saskatoon) City Hospital," he said.

Reiter also mentioned the creation of the SHA command centre and the health authority's efforts to move patients to more appropriate care settings. 

“We’re adding a 36-bed medicine unit to Royal University Hospital. We’re going to continue with our accountable care strategy Mr. Speaker, that’s shown some results particularly in Regina.”