The leader of the opposition and Saskatchewan’s premier clashed horns Tuesday over the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s decision to slow down health-care services, including some surgeries, amid the increased COVID-19 patient load of recent months.
During question period, Ryan Meili called Paul Merriman an “emblem of failure” amid suggestions that the government’s “lack of action” resulted in the worst COVID-19-related death rate in the country in recent weeks.
“To the premier, how on earth can you keep someone who’s such an emblem of failure, such a mountain of incompetence, in the most important chair during a pandemic?” Meili asked in a raucous chamber exchange.
The premier, though, was quick to defend his disparaged colleague, whom has also come under opposition criticism for the timing of recent mask and vaccine mandates.
“Maybe the members of the opposition, if they just would zip it for a minute, maybe they’d be able to hear one of these answers, Mr. Speaker,” Moe retorted, citing a statistic also highlighted by Merriman in the legislature Tuesday.
“As the Minister of Health has indicated, through a very challenging time, 88 per cent of surgeries (scheduled for this year) were completed.”
Furthering his comments on health-care system slowdowns, which have resulted in delays to over 275 services and an apology from the premier, Moe promised the Ministry of Health is “hard at work” developing a plan to return system to normal.
“As we look to the next number of days, the Ministry of Health is actively working on all opportunities that we have to resume those services as soon as we are able.”
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But in a Provincial Emergency Operations Centre update Tuesday, Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone implied there is no immediate plan for catching up on delayed surgeries.
“I wouldn’t even speculate on how long because again, what you’ve got to remember is it’s not just about what’s on the waiting list today. It’s what’s coming to the waiting list,” Livingstone said.
Livingstone added there have been around 26,000 surgery delays since the onset of the pandemic.
Reiterating that 88 per cent of surgeries scheduled in 2021 have been completed, which he said is a Ministry of Health figure, Merriman told reporters that decisions being made by clinicians around prioritization of critical surgeries are ongoing.
“The most surgeries that have been done are cataracts and day surgeries. A lot of them can be done because they’re not taking up necessary hospital beds,” he said in post-question period scrums.
“The critical surgeries, whether it’s a cancer surgery or a car accident, or whatever the ailment is — that’s up to the clinicians to decide that.”
Asked for his message to those experiencing delays, Merriman said, “I hear your calls.”
“I understand these are your family members. I understand you’re being patient. We’re trying to get the people back as soon as we can so that we can get those surgeries done and so that we can get your family members in a very good spot for the Christmas season.”