Turning to private sector to reduce surgical wait times in Sask. a bad idea: critics

The Saskatchewan government’s plan to reduce the province’s surgical backlog has come under fire from a health policy analyst and the Opposition NDP.

On Monday, the province said it will send patients who have waited the longest for hip and knee replacements out of province to Alberta for treatment. This would be on a “voluntary basis,” according to the government, and only for “low-risk” patients who could be discharged within 24 hours.

The government also wants a private orthopedic surgery clinic to be built in Saskatchewan. A third of patients who have waited longer than a year for surgery need orthopedic procedures, according to the government. 

Steven Lewis, a health policy consultant formerly based in Saskatchewan and adjunct professor of health policy at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, says the government should be building up the public system instead of turning to the private sector.

“If there is some advantage in having a stand-alone surgical clinic that does nothing but these kinds of day procedures, it would be just as efficient to build them and operate them in the public system,” Lewis said in an interview with CBC News.

‘Siphoning’ off workers 

The government said it will issue a request for proposals to contract a private company to build a dedicated orthopedic facility in the province to boost operating room and bed capacity.

Patients would be treated using public funds, the government said. 

Lewis says the move would divert staff away from the public system.

“We have a finite supply of highly trained people to do this work, not a surplus group of doctors and/or nurses waiting around looking for work, so you are siphoning them off from the public system,” he said. 

The government said 5,000 more surgeries have been performed during the first five months of this year compared to 2021. However, more than 30,000 people are still waiting for surgery, according to government data, and procedures have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Carla Beck calls the government’s surgery plan ‘half-baked.’ (Saskatchewan NDP)

By comparison, the province completed about 2,400 more surgeries in the first five months of 2019 than this year.

More full-time positions needed: NDP

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Carla Beck called the government’s plan “half-baked,” and said the Saskatchewan Party government should scrap it.

The government should instead fund more permanent, full-time health-care jobs to attract more workers, she said.

“We won’t be able to fill this need if we keep posting casual and term positions, where full-time positions are needed,” Beck said Thursday.

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat says it’s the government’s responsibility to strengthen the public system.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the NDP’s criticism of publicly funded, but privately delivered, surgeries comes at the expense of patients. 

In a statement, he said the NDP’s approach would “deny near-term relief to long-waiting surgical patients to satisfy their ideological opposition” to the private delivery of health services through public funding.

He said his government is taking “an all of the above approach” to addressing wait times.


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