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Sask. sees 70 per cent increase in patients waiting longest for surgery

Prior to this year, the lengthiest waits for surgery in Saskatchewan had gone down 83 per cent since 2010.
Prior to this year, the lengthiest waits for surgery in Saskatchewan had gone down 83 per cent since 2010. John Lehmann / The Globe and Mail

REGINA – The number of people waiting more than three months for surgery in Saskatchewan has jumped 70 per cent, with critics pointing to a March budget cut as the reason why.

In Regina and Saskatoon, the province’s two largest surgical centres, 1,661 patients had been waiting more than 90 days for their procedure as of March. The number climbed only slightly in the following months, but rose sharply throughout the summer: 2,088 patients in July, 2,468 by August, and 2,821 as of September, according to the latest numbers available from the province.

PWebrior to this trend, the Sask. Party government’s surgical initiative had resulted in an 83 per cent reduction in the lengthiest waits for surgery since 2010.

Planning documents in July showed the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region was asked to cut $38 million from its spending this year, with $8 million saved by doing 1,000 fewer surgeries. The Saskatoon Health Region is facing a similar, $44-million bind.

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The Opposition NDP believe it will mean 3,400 fewer surgeries province-wide by the end of 2015.

“It’s not just a one-month thing,” said NDP leader Cam Broten. “We see a clear pattern here beginning in the spring when budget cuts were made.”

Broten raised the issue in late October, when numbers available at the time showed the list of people waiting three months had grown by 50 per cent.

“Instead of just minimizing this, the government should recognize this is a problem.”

Health Minister Dustin Duncan says he’s “not overly concerned” with the trend because even with more people waiting longer for surgery, “99 per cent” of people have their procedure done within six months.

“We’re going to keep a close eye on it,” Duncan said. “But with the progress we’ve made in this province … even with those numbers increasing on a very small basis, compared to the overall picture I think we’re still in a very good position.”

“With the vast majority of people getting a date within three months … I would stack that up against every single province in this country.”

For much of 2005, more than 17,000 people had been waiting three months or longer for surgery. The number had been in continuous decline since and the wait list began to clear rapidly when the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative was introduced in 2010. At that time the wait-list was still 15,291 names long.

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Duncan says surgeries longer one of the key priorities of the health system, which includes seniors care and emergency department wait times.