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Sask. mammogram plan facing questions after opposition reveals donations from contracted health provider

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The Government of Saskatchewan is facing questions after a subsidiary of a private health firm currently contracted by the province was found to have donated nearly $20,000 to the Saskatchewan Party.

Since 2016, Surgical Centres Inc. has donated $19,300 to the Saskatchewan Party.

According to province's Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists – the company is a subsidiary of Clearpoint Health Network.

The donations were presented by the Saskatchewan NDP during question period on Monday.

Private medical facilities operated by Clearpoint in Calgary have been utilized by the province to conduct knee and hip surgeries as well as more recently – urgent mammograms or breast cancer diagnostic testing.

“It's not a good look. It raises questions about whether this is an appropriate solve,” NDP MLA Meara Conway told reporters.

“We're very disappointed to see that the solution has been to award this contract to a significant donor of the Sask Party – at what appears on its face to be 10 times what we pay locally.”

The opposition has criticized that the province is paying a flat rate of $2,000 per mammogram referral – pointing out that the same procedures cost $130 to $430 at private clinics in Ontario and B.C.

Health Minister Everett Hindley says the selection of Clearpoint was solely based on Saskatchewan's ongoing agreement with the company - which he said allowed the province to act quickly on diagnostic wait times.

“I met with a number of patients … on this issue of breast cancer screenings and wait times. As they met with me and sat across the table from me, they were asking for solutions, now. ‘What can you do today?’” Hindley recounted.

“Understanding that we are trying to fill the vacancies for specialized breast radiologists – but they were looking for immediate solutions, as were we.”

When asked if the donations were ever mentioned in the selection process, Hindley was adamant.

“No, I was never aware of it,” he said. “It was never discussed.”

According to the minister – as of Dec. 5 – 30 women have taken the offer to travel for urgent testing in Calgary.

Hindley stressed that using public funds to pay for out of province testing is very much a temporary solution.

“The ultimate solution we're looking for us to fill the vacancies we have – particularly in the City of Regina,” he said.

“The waiting list that that we have is roughly 350 women – a significant portion of those from Regina and southern Saskatchewan – but we're hopeful that the short term contract will address that waiting list.”

The province has purchased 1,000 tests until the end of March, 2025.

Conway said that the opposition believes the government’s actions and its selection of Clearpoint is suspicious.

“The combination of allowing it to get to this point, and then [what appear] to be inflated rates on their face, and then the company that they're doing the contract with – the combination stinks,” she said.

“It doesn't pass the smell test.”

RECORD NUMBER OF SURGERIES CONDUCTED

According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), hospitals in the province are cutting through surgical waitlists at a record pace.

“[An] emphasis put on surgery and making sure that we were providing better access and getting through patients that had built up during the pandemic,” Head of Surgery for the SHA, Dr. Michael Kelly told CTV News.

A total of 47,748 surgeries were conducted in the most recent six month reporting period in Saskatchewan.

The total marks an increase of more than 10 per cent during the same period last year – and an all time record.

“The 90 per cent of surgeries done within 10 months – we are achieving that and we have been all this year,” explained Cindy Graham, Director of Surgical Services at the SHA.

“So we're very proud of that fact.”

The province’s surgical waitlist peaked at 35,000 people during the pandemic. Today it's 28,000.

The government says it has taken hard work by many to reduce the weight.

“It's the people that are frankly working in the operating groups,” Hindley told reporters on Tuesday. “The surgeons are actually conducting these surgeries, the anesthesiologists that are part of that team, the operating room nurses, the care aides, everyone that's part of that whole continuum of care for the patient.”

Last year, Saskatchewan hospitals performed 90,000 surgeries.

This year's goal is 103,000 – a target that hospitals expect to achieve.

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