Wait times to see a specialist in Saskatchewan have climbed by nearly 30 per cent since 2015. The Opposition NDP brought the data to question period Thursday.
The data was obtained through a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Health. On average, wait times to see specialists have grown 29 per cent from April 2015 to March 2018.
The increases are across 19 categories of specialists; including cardiologists, psychiatrists and OB/GYNs.
The Opposition pursued this information after hearing concern about an upcoming shortage of gynecological oncologists. One in Saskatoon is on indefinite leave and another is leaving next month. In Regina, a third is expected to leave in June 2019.
At that point, there will be one gynecological oncologist in Saskatchewan.
“It’s going to leave the province underserved with that important service, people with cervical cancer, uterine cancer, won’t be able to get the care they need in a timely way,” Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said.
Across the aisle, Health Minister Jim Reiter said the potential shortage is a major concern, but the Saskatchewan Health Authority is a short term back up plan.
“They’ve signed some locums to cover until, at minimum, to the end of March while they do a very aggressive recruitment campaign,” Reiter said.
A locum is a professional that temporarily fills the role of another; in this case other doctors will act as gynecological oncologists on a temporary basis.
As for the broader issue of specialist wait times, Reiter said the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) has echoed the concerns about growing wait times over the past couple of years.
“We think a big part of the answer to this is the referral process that we use. We think we can do a lot of improvements there. We’re going to work with the SMA on that,” Reiter said.
“For example, in child psychiatry in Saskatoon, working on that referral system, the wait times are still too long – we need to do better. We’re recruiting another specialist there. They’re down about 35 per cent right now.”
The minister added there aren’t many people that can fill some of these roles to begin with, and it is a competitive labour market across Canada.
Based on what he’s heard from ministry officials, specialist wait times are reversing – down 15 per cent since March.
However, Meili said it was surprising Reiter didn’t seem to know the scope of the wait time issue during question period.
“They didn’t seem to be aware of this. They certainly didn’t acknowledge that it was a problem. They talked about past inputs into the health system. But right now, we’re seeing these numbers climb and climb quickly,” Meili said.
Among the recruitment efforts, Reiter talked about emphasizing recruiting local doctors and medicine students as they’re more likely to stay in their community.