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Sask. will send women who need urgent breast cancer tests to Calgary

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To address wait times, the provincial government announced they will be sending women who need urgent breast cancer tests to Calgary.

The patients at high risk are receiving diagnostic care in Saskatchewan, according to the province.

However, eligible patients on an urgent wait last will be able to receive procedures at a private medical facility in Calgary.

“Women in this province have raised concerns about the wait times for breast cancer diagnostics,” breast cancer survivor and advocate Jodi Krechowiecki said in a government news release. “We will continue to push for improved patient access within Saskatchewan and I am relieved to see that the government is listening to women in this province.”

The temporary measure, which is meant to reduce wait times for breast mammography and biopsies, will be in place until the services are "stabilized" in Saskatchewan, the release said.

The Regina Breast Assessment Centre will be coordinating the out-of-province-care.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has also extended hours of service in Saskatoon for long-waiting and urgent patients from Regina and southern areas of the province.

As well, there is now centralized booking for breast imaging at SHA facilities across the province. The SHA is working with the Ministry of Health to recruit specialized workers.

“Frankly we have some unacceptable wait times when it comes to breast cancer,” Health Minister Everett Hindley told reporters Wednesday. “I asked our teams to look at every and all options … as we know cancer can’t wait. It requires a diagnosis on a very urgent basis.”

Hindely explained that the testing will be done in collaboration with Clearpoint Health Network, a private health care provider that has already been utilized by the province for hip and knee surgeries.

“We worked closely and quickly with them to amend that contract to allow us to purchase 1,000 of these procedures temporarily until the end of March of 2025,” he said.

The agreement will cost approximately $2 million, according to Hindley.

“Ideally, we don’t want to be doing this,” he said. “Now other provinces and territories are doing the same thing in some cases.”

The Northwest Territories has contracted Clearpoint for the same services – while B.C. has sent patients to the state of Washington for breast biopsies.

‘SIGN OF THEIR FAILURE’

"This is not anything that the minister should be patting himself on the back for. In fact he should be apologizing to women in this province for letting it get to this," NDP leader Carla Beck said during a news conference in Saskatoon late Wednesday afternoon.

"This is a government that has failed to prioritize health and in particular women's health. We see in this province today, an announcement that women who are needing urgent life-saving mammogram care are having to go to Calgary, having to go out of province, to get the care that they should be able to receive here at home ... It's a sad day." 

Sherri MacLean has waited three months for an urgent breast cancer biopsy and says travelling to Alberta is less than ideal.

“You know I don’t want to travel to Calgary and stay there and I was told wherever your biopsy is is where you have to have your treatments. So if it is malignant and I have to have treatments right away, I don’t want it to be in Calgary where I have nobody,” she said.

During question period, Saskatchewan NDP framed the outsourcing of scans as a failure – likening it to the government’s decision to transport COVID-19 ICU patients to Ontario in 2021.

“The fact that they’re doing that again to Saskatchewan people is not a sign that they managed our health system well – it’s a sign of their failure,” said NDP MLA Matt Love during question period. The Saskatchewan NDP hosted health care workers from Regina’s Pasqua Hospital on Wednesday. Love highlighted workers’ concerns over understaffing.

“The people who joined us here today have seen their unit closed when there aren't enough staff with many open vacancies, unfilled positions and staff burning out – that's at risk of happening again this winter,” he said.

“If just one or two of these staff at the Pasqua Hospital catch a flu, or call in sick, the whole system will collapse at the Pasqua.”

According to Saskatchewan Cancer Agency annual reports, the number of mammograms performed in Saskatchewan has trended downward in the past seven years.

In 2017, a total of 38,521 tests were conducted as opposed to 28,454 in 2022 – marking a decline of more than 10,000.

According to the NDP, some Saskatchewan doctors are currently reporting waits for mammograms as long as into June of 2024.

Typically the government doesn’t cover travel expenses for patients sent out of province . In this case it says it will because of the urgent nature of cancer. 

- With files from Wayne Mantyka

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