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'Utilizing the tools available': Province's plan is to reduce surgical backlog by 240 patients

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The province says they have a plan to reduce Saskatchewan’s surgery waitlist by 240 people.

Announced as part of the 2023 budget, the Ministry of Health will spend upwards of $6 million to send patients to private surgical clinics in Calgary for knee and hip replacements.

“It’s something we feel we need to do,” said Minister of Health Paul Merriman on Thursday.

“People have been on the surgery list for a long time. This is an option for them.”

Merriman said the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) would reach out to individuals awaiting those surgeries to give them the option to travel to Alberta.

However, anyone who opts into the process will have to pay for their own travel and accommodations.

“People are going to be able to essentially jump the queue,” said NDP health critic Vicki Mowat.

Mowat argued the decision would create a two-class system for those awaiting a surgery. Those who can pay to travel and those who cannot.

“It’s [the government’s] responsibility to perform these surgeries and to provide them publically,” she said. “People have to pay out of pocket. A basic tenant of Medicare is people who require that surgery should have the availability of it.”

In the province’s recent budget, the government outlined they want to complete an additional 6,000 surgeries this year. They were willing to use private clinics if needed to do so.

Merriman said the province’s surgery procedures were up 11 per cent in the past six months from where they were in 2019 during the same timeframe.

While the plan is to send people out of province for now, he added the work here at home won’t stop.

“We’re increasing capacity in Saskatchewan,” said Merriman. “We are using this temporary option to get to those specific surgeries. We have all of these tools available to us, so we’re utilizing them.”

“This is something [the government] saw coming,” said Mowat. “They should have taken the time to develop a strategy.”

The government said any necessary follow-up appointments will be covered by the province.

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