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CUPE criticizes Sask. government plan to outsource some knee and hip surgeries

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The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health’s plan to outsource knee and hip surgeries to an out-of-province, private surgical facility received criticism from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

The plan was announced on Monday as part of the government’s strategy to address the surgical backlog created in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ministry said it intends to perform 7,000 more surgeries in 2022-23 than the highest level previously recorded.

As part of that initiative, the province is working to increase capacity in Regina, Saskatoon, as well as regional surgical units, proposing a stand-alone orthopedic surgery facility to be built in the province, and lastly, a “temporary, out-of-province surgical initiative for hip and knee replacements.”

“A private surgical facility outside Saskatchewan would be contracted by the Saskatchewan Health Authority to perform publicly funded orthopedic surgeries,” the Ministry of Health outlined in a July 25 news release.

“This option would be offered to patients on a fully voluntary basis, who have waited the longest for their joint replacement procedures.”

Those waiting for orthopedic procedures make up one-third of those waiting longer than 12 months on the current surgical waitlist, the ministry said in its release.

CUPE 5430, which represents over 13,000 healthcare workers in Saskatchewan, called the Ministry of Health’s move “unacceptable.”

“Contracting out surgeries is not a magic wand for wait times. In fact, there is little evidence to show that contracting out will result in shorter wait times. We point to Saskatchewan’s own MRI wait lists which have increased since the government implemented a two-tier system,” said Bashir Jalloh, president of CUPE 5430, in a news release.

“Even in the case of private surgeries, these patients end up coming back to the public system for follow up. Home care and therapies are just a couple of programs that are also experiencing backlogs.”

The Ministry of Health said the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) does not have the human resources or capacity within its existing facilities to expand on the volume of surgeries already planned for this year, in a statement to CTV News.

The ministry went on to explain that the introduction of same-day orthopedic surgeries in several parts of the country has allowed the possibility to contract third party services to perform the procedures, outside hospitals for a “limited number of low-risk patients.”

The Ministry’s 2022-23 budget allocated $21.6 million for addition surgical volumes. This is in addition to the $20 million that was added for the same purpose in the 2020-21 provincial budget.

CUPE said the government’s move to rely on private healthcare will worsen recruitment and retention challenges currently faced by public healthcare in Saskatchewan.

“There is a limited pool of healthcare staff, and the privatization of more healthcare services will pull medical staff away from the public system,” Jalloh explained.

CUPE requested the Saskatchewan government allow for the expansion of operating hours, the hiring of more staff and the opening of more training spaces in order to expand public care to meet current backlogs, it noted in its release.

“If the Sask. Party government can afford to ship people out of province for surgeries,” Jalloh said. “They can afford to invest in public solutions.”

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