REGINA – With an 83 per cent reduction in people waiting more than three months for surgery, there’s little doubt the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative, started in 2010, was a success for the government.
But since the March 2015 budget, a new trend is emerging in the province’s two largest surgical centres: the waiting list has jumped by 50 per cent in just six months.
“We’ve had, all along the way, to make adjustments.” – Health Minister Dustin Duncan
At the end of March, just 1,664 people were waiting longer than three months for surgery. As of the latest numbers from the end of August, the number of patients on that list has reached 2,587.
In July 2015, a Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR) planning document said it was expected to find $38 million in funding cuts – with $8 million saved by reducing surgeries by roughly 1,000.
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“The goal has changed from one of growth to one where contraction of services in order to meet a reduced target is the overall goal,” the document said.
The Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) is in a $44-million bind of its own, but it’s unclear how much of that figure will impact surgeries.
“The achievements that we have seen, we celebrate those, that’s a good thing,” Opposition NDP leader Cam Broten said Monday. “The problem right now is we’re seeing movement in the wrong direction.”
Health Minister Dustin Duncan said the government’s success with the surgical initiative is still “unheard of” across the country.
“We’re really talking about going from, not a three-month wait, but a four-month wait,” Duncan said. “Yes, we do want to get that back down to zero across the province, but we’re a long ways away from when people were waiting two-to-three years.”
Duncan says the trend wasn’t always going in the right direction.
“Two years into the surgical initiative, Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region was going the wrong way,” he said, noting changes that were made among health region leadership to correct the issue.
“We’ve had, all along the way, to make adjustments.”
Clearing the backlog
For much of 2005, more than 17,000 people had been waiting three months or longer for surgery. The number has been in continuous decline since and the wait list began to clear rapidly when the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative was introduced in 2010. At that time the wait-list was still 15,291 names long.
QP: Wall credits private surgical clinics mixing into the public system for cutting the wait list. #skpoli
— Mike McKinnon (@mikemckinnon) October 26, 2015
In the 2014 Saskatchewan budget, $60.5 million was invested in the surgical initiative and continuation of improved surgical care. Now the worry is if the latest increase to the wait list could become a long-term trend.
According to the RQHR planning documents, funding restraint “could potentially result in a deterioration in our gains to date.”