Saskatchewan government spends big on health care in Budget 2022

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Saskatchewan government spends big on health care in Budget 2022
Unsurprisingly two years in a pandemic that saw surgery backlogs and hospitals near capacity, health care spending took centre stage in Saskatchewan's 2022-23 budget. Connor O'Donovan has the details on the record investment that the opposition believes doesn't go far enough – Mar 23, 2022

Health-care spending in Saskatchewan is getting a $318.7-million boost in the provincial government’s 2022-23 budget.

The funding represents a 5.2 per cent increase from 2021-22 health-care funding to $6.44 billion, and the government plans to use the boost to address surgical wait times and mental health among other issues.

With an increase of $277.1 million, or seven per cent, to $4.242 billion, the 2022-23 budget is the largest in history for the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan Budget 2022: Paul Merriman on big health care budget'
Saskatchewan Budget 2022: Paul Merriman on big health care budget

Here’s a look at where that money will be going:

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Province commits to eliminating surgical backlog

Some $21.6 million will be used to reduce the surgical waitlist.

The provincial government has set a goal of eliminating the surgical backlog by the end of March 2025.

“In prioritizing surgical plans and setting aggressive, achievable targets, Saskatchewan will deliver on the largest volume of surgical procedures in the history of the province starting this year,” the government said in a release.

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili called this a “recycled announcement” and said the funding “will go nowhere near what we need to address the huge backlog.”

“This is nowhere near adequate to respond to the need.… What we should be seeing right now after what the pandemic has revealed about health care is a generational investment. Instead, we see an investment that doesn’t even keep up to inflation,” Meili said.

Saskatchewan Medical Association president Dr. Eben Strydom said the backlog in surgeries will take long-term, ongoing planning and funding to bring wait times down to manageable levels.

“The step announced today to address the backlog is welcome, but it is only a first step in providing relief for patients whose procedures have been postponed. Physicians will be pleased when their patients receive the care they need,” Strydom said.

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11 ICU beds added throughout province

The government will be spending $12.5 million to support the first year of a multi-year strategy to add 31 intensive care unit (ICU) beds across Saskatchewan.

In 2022, 11 ICU beds will be added to the provincial system for a total of 90 ICU beds.

This is the first step in the government’s goal of 110 total ICU beds to address capacity issues and high occupancy rates. The government says this will “ultimately (lead) to a higher quality of care.”

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Additionally, $3 million will fund 10 high-acuity beds at Regina General Hospital. The government says these beds will be used to reduce demands on the ICU as well as improve patient flow.

EMS in rural and remote Saskatchewan to get funding boost

Nearly $11 million will be going to emergency medical services (EMS) to support additional paramedics, ambulances and funding in 27 communities across the province.

The government said the allocation of these funds focuses on rural and remote areas, something local leaders in multiple communities have been calling for.

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The provincial government said this funding will also support additional training and resources for community paramedicine in some rural and northern communities.

Dollars added to recruit and retain health care workers

The Saskatchewan Party government is spending $3.5 million to attract and retain specialists and physicians by increasing the number of specialty and family medicine residency training seats and expanding intake for the Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment (SIPPA) program.

The government also committed to enhancing rural practice incentives for physicians.

The Saskatchewan Medical Association is pleased to see the province create a new agency that will help recruit and retain health-care workers and physicians.

“The SMA looks forward to providing physician perspectives into the formation of this agency. Recruiting physicians and retaining them requires long-term, prudent planning to prevent shortages in the future,” Strydom added.

CUPE 5430 president Bashir Jalloh said the problem isn’t only recruitment but keeping people in jobs.

CUPE 5430 represents more than 14,000 health-care workers in the province.

“You can recruit people but if you can’t retain them, they’re going to leave,” jalloh said.

Jalloh said most jobs are temporary and casual positions so if people aren’t offered full-time work, they leave.

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While CUPE 5430 welcomes the government establishing an agency for recruitment and retention, they believe more could have been done with this budget.

Mental health and addictions treatment to get $9.5M boost

The provincial government will be allocating $9.5 million in 2022-23 to mental health and addictions. The government said this includes $8 million for targeted initiatives to improve services and support.

This investment will fund the first of the 150 new addiction treatment spaces the provincial government committed to in its 2021 speech from the throne.

Saskatchewan NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said this budget “fails” when responding to the “magnitude of challenges” that Saskatchewan residents face in mental health and addictions services.

“Those that are suffering with mental health and addictions in this province who don’t have access to the treatment and services that they need and deserve,” Wotherspoon said.

“We’re in reconciliation, housing supports and action on poverty … this is a budget that fails.”

Saskatchewan Cancer Agency receives largest budget ever

The provincial government is providing $15.8 million in the 2022-23 budget for the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency (SCA), representing a 7.7 per cent increase.

The funding will go to improving treatments, services and resources for cancer patients with a goal of achieving better outcomes.

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At $219.8 million, this is the SCA’s largest budget ever.

The money will also go to drug treatments and therapies as well as expanding the Bone Marrow Transplant program to address higher demand.

The funding for cancer also includes:

  • $4.8-million increase for drugs and other therapies
  • $2 million for direct care resources such as nurses and clinical associates to support patient and treatment volumes
  • $1.75 million for screening programs for various cancers including the initial development of a lung cancer screening program for northern Saskatchewan
  • a $1.1-million increase for additional resourcing and funding to address the growing demand in the Bone Marrow Transplant Program
  • a $674,000-increase to develop a provincial Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell Therapy program, which is an emerging treatment for some types of cancer
  • a $575,000-increase for community oncology programs to make sure patients benefit from treatment options that are closer to home
  • a $389,000-increase for a medical oncologist to support the establishment of a new medical oncology residency program in partnership with the College of Medicine

Other health care investments:

The government said a $4.9-million funding increase will help expand the number of specialized medical imaging procedures, including CT and MRI scans.

An increase of $2.2 million will go toward more specialized care in the Neonatal ICU at Prince Albert Victoria Hospital.

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Some $2 million will fund 65 additional transcatheter aortic valve insertion (TAVI) procedures for a total of 120 procedures in 2022.

The government is also spending $17 million to support seniors. This includes carrying through with its plan of hiring more continuing care aides in long-term and home care, and more funding to meet increasing demand for home care. It also includes more operational funding for the NorthWest Community lodge in Meadow Lake which has not yet opened.

The funding will also be used to expand the coverage for high-dose influenza vaccines to all adults aged 65 and older.

The government is also putting $394,000 toward six additional hospice beds at Wascana Rehabilitation Centre.

The 2022-23 budget will also commit $156.6 million to build needed infrastructure projects, which includes hospitals and health care facilities.

Some of these projects include:

  • $15.2 million for urgent care centres in Regina and Saskatoon
  • $13.5 million for the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital to cover procurement and design states of the project
  • $6.5 million for design and procurement activities needed for specialized and long-term care beds in Regina
  • $6 million for the Weyburn General Hospital replacement for continued procurement and design
  • $5 million for continued progress on La Ronge and Grenfell long-term care facilities
  • $750,000 for planning, procurement and design of the Regina General Hospital Parkade
  • $600,000 to continue early planning and needs assessment for the Yorkton Regional Health Centre replacement and the Watson and Estevan long-term care replacements.

The 2022-23 budget will also provide $95 million to assist with the province’s ongoing COVID-19 response. This money will cover PPE supplies, continuing vaccinations, infection prevention in long-term care homes and temporary acute care beds in Saskatoon and Regina.

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