Saskatchewan’s private MRI system not meeting provincial requirement, auditor says

There are seven MRIs across Saskatchewan. The government of Saskatchewan also contracts out two private companies to supplement hospital-based MRI services in Regina. Despite this, the demand for MRI tests is projected to grow by four per cent annually says the provincial auditor. Getty Images / File

Private MRI operators in Saskatchewan are not meeting provincial requirements when it comes to providing free MRIs within a specific timeframe, the provincial auditor has found.

In 2016, the Saskatchewan government implemented a one-for-one system that requires private operators to provide a free scan to someone on the public wait list every time someone jumps the queue by paying for an MRI.

The free scan must be done within 14 days of completing the privately paid scan dictates the government.

However, the provincial auditor found that is not always the case.

Read more: Private MRI scans not reducing wait times: Sask. auditor

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For three of 10 scans under the one-for-one model the auditor tested, a private operator took longer than the 14-day requirement.

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In the three cases, the auditor found it took 17, 24 and 42 days to complete the scan.

The providers did not offer a reason to the Saskatchewan Health Authority for the delay.

“Lack of timely MRI scans performed at private operators may indicate a concern with their prioritization methods or capacity,” reads the auditor’s report. “This impacts how long patients are waiting for MRI services.”

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The Saskatchewan Health Authority does not monitor the quality of private scans or the timeliness of them. This is something the provincial auditor has asked the government to do since 2017.

Opposition leader Ryan Meili called the one-for-one system a “failed experiment” as waiting lists for MRIs continue to get longer. The provincial auditor projects demand for MRIs will continue to grow four per cent annually.

Read more: MRI wait list in Saskatchewan sees significant increase

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On Thursday, Saskatchewan NDP health critic Vicki Mowat introduced a bill to repeal the province’s private MRI legislation — which the federal government has previously said is a violation of Canada’s Health Act.

“Saskatchewan people facing serious health challenges shouldn’t be left waiting longer while those who can afford to pay get moved to the front of the line,” said Mowat. “Wait times for MRIs were already ballooning before the pandemic.”

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But Minister of Health Jim Reiter stands by the model which took over 1,500 names off the public wait list between April and December of last year.

“It’s important to remember why that legislation was introduced. We were in a situation in Saskatchewan where people were leaving the province to go to Alberta… and the U.S. to pay for an MRI,” Reiter said. “The Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Workers Compensation Board could pay for it and have it done, yet the average citizen couldn’t. That didn’t’ seem fair or logical.”

Read more: Federally-imposed deadline approaching for Saskatchewan to stop private MRIs

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But with the coronavirus pandemic postponing MRIs for people longer than the usual wait time of two to 90 days, Meili says it’s more important than ever to scrap the one-for-one model.

“Retire the user-pay model. It shows here and around the world it will lengthen wait times in the public system. They said it would shorten it, and it is proven not to,” Meili said.

“This model was never a good idea. Now, during COVID-19, we have more people waiting. Having a system where more money jumps the queue and gets ahead of folks and the surgeries they need, it was always wrong, it’s just now so much uglier.”

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