REGINA – The Saskatchewan government is considering whether to bring back a program that would privatize some surgeries to deal with a growing backlog of people needing an operation.
There are 35,000 people in the province who are waiting for surgery, a list that continues to grow as COVID-19 continues to overwhelmed the health-care system.
In 2010, the Saskatchewan Party government introduced an initiative to help reduce surgical wait times when the list was 27,500 patients long.
People on the waiting list were allowed to choose either a public or private provider for select surgeries. The goal was that no patient would wait more than three months.
The final report on the initiative said the four-year program helped 11,528 patients get off the waiting list within the three-month period.
“That would be one of the options we would look at to address some of the current challenges that we have,” Premier Scott Moe said Thursday.
Those challenges include a shortage of health-care workers.
Moe said the government is also exploring ways to expand surgical capacity in the public sector to make it sustainable in the long term.
In recent months, the province privatized some testing and contact tracing to allow health-care workers who were redeployed to deal with COVID-19 to go back to their original jobs.
Other than some surgeries, there are no plans to privatize other parts of public health care, Moe said.
NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said he’s deeply concerned that Moe is using the pandemic to “try to take advantage of a crisis to further privatize our system.”
“All smart options should be on the table. Stupid options shouldn’t. Ineffective options shouldn’t,” Meili said.
“We know when you introduce user-pay, private, for-profit surgery, you increase wait times in the public system.”
Dallas Oberik, 70, visited the Saskatchewan legislature on Thursday as the Opposition’s guest, but she also talked to the premier to discuss her three-year wait for a hip surgery.
“This started before the pandemic, but when the virus hit, we all went to hell in a handbasket,” said Oberik, who blamed government policy.
“We’re here because we didn’t step up and do what needed to be done, and listen to the medical professionals.”
Earlier this week, Scott Livingstone, head of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said it could take 18 months to catch up on hip and knee surgeries alone, not including anyone newly added to the waiting list.
“It’s going to be worse and I’ll live with it simply because I have no choice. If I was independently wealthy, I’d go to a private clinic and get this taken care of right away,” Oberik said.
“I don’t have that kind of money, so I’ll be like everybody else, wait my turn, and do what I can to get through each day.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.