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Sask. expanding private medical procedures to address COVID-19 surgical backlog

Saskatchewan is looking to private medical service providers to help address the surgical backlog created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve certainly approached the private suppliers that are publicly funded to see what their current capacity is and what they could expand out to, but not just in their capacity but also their scope of what different surgeries that they can do within that,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said Friday.

The province said it is working with its current third party provider to increase the number and types of surgeries they provide, as part of the service resumption plan announced Thursday.

A Request for Information to test the market for “additional third party surgical providers for day procedures, overnight inpatient surgeries, and post-operative care including therapies and home care,” was also issued. The procedures would be publicly funded.

Along with bringing back a “sustainable” level of public surgeries, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said additional private surgeries are necessary in the short-term to reduce the current backlog.

“The goal is to reduce the surgical wait times that we have here in the province. We want to use all the tools we have available to us, and we’re going to use them all,” Moe said Thursday.

Moe noted that the province has used private medical surgeries to address high wait times in the past. The NDP opposition is concerned the increase in third party surgeries could lead to more privatization down the road.

“Using private services to delivery publicly paid [procedures], we do that all the time and there’s a role for that, we have to watch it, especially with this government that likes to give those contracts to their friends and donors, likes to continually push the envelope on privatization,” NDP Leader Ryan Meili said at the legislative building on Thursday.

“I worry about is that they might go down the road as they already have with the MRIs, as we’ve seen other governments that this government is attached to or affiliated with go down the road of patients having to pay for service.”

The province is aiming to reduce the COVID-19 surgical backlog by 2025 and achieve a three-month wait time by 2030. The increased capacity includes an increase of 7,000 surgeries in 2022-23, 6,000 in 2023-24; and 5,000 in 2024-25.

The NDP worry that private clinics will recruit doctors and nurses away from hospitals leaving those waiting for surgery no further ahead.

“I’m also really concerned just about this imaginary plan that somehow there is a great deal of capacity in a private system that doesn’t exist. We have a finite number of nurses, of doctors and [operating room] staff,” Meili said Friday.

The health minister believes some doctors and nurses from hospitals will choose to work at private clinics in their free time, but it will make for a more efficient system

“There’s obviously scales of efficiency there and that’s why the private sector has been successful doing this over the last few years,” Merriman said.

The government has no current target for the number of surgeries to be performed at private clinics. All procedures will be publicly funded and nobody will be able to buy their way up the waiting list. Top Stories

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