The Alberta government will inject $312 million to expand surgical capacity in the province in the next 12 months.
In a news release Thursday, the province said the money aims to add 20,000 more surgeries in 2023-24 and help Alberta Health Services reach its goal of 310,000 surgeries over the next 12 months.
The government also plans on spending $316 million in 2024-25 and another $324 million in 2025-26.
An additional $237 million will be injected into the Surgical Initiative Capital Program, which the government said is a $120 million increase from last year.
The fund will help with expansion projects such as enlarging spaces around the operating room like the post-anesthesia care unit, surgical scrub space, recovery space, surgical inpatient units, day surgery space and soiled and sterile storage.
Another $120 million has been allocated over three years to upgrade medical and surgical devices in facilities across the province, including Brooks, Calgary, Camrose, Crowsnest Pass, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Grande Prairie, Innisfail, Olds, Pincher Creek, Ponoka, Red Deer, St. Albert, Stettler and Taber.
The announcement comes after a report released in March by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that half of Canadian cancer patients waited about one to three days longer for their breast, bladder, colorectal and lung cancer surgery than before the pandemic.
The average wait time increased by about 12 days for prostate cancer.
At the beginning of the pandemic, provinces asked their hospitals to ramp down elective surgeries in order to help curb the spread of the virus. As a result, many cancer patients had to forego their surgical procedures.
Health Minister Jason Copping said the additional funding will help reduce wait times in Alberta.
The number of patients waiting longer for surgery than clinically recommended times has dropped by 18 per cent since November 2022, according to the Thursday morning news release.
Around 32,200 Albertans are waiting for surgery outside the clinically recommended time since March 27, down from 39,200 in November.
“This is remarkable progress and it will make a difference in the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Albertans,” the health minister said at a news conference in Brooks, Alta., on Thursday.
“We know there is still tremendous work ahead of us and we are committed to the process.”
The announcement also comes after the province contracted 3,000 orthopedic surgeries to private facilities in January.
Independent health-care facility Canadian Surgery Solutions (CSS) was contracted to provide around 3,000 orthopedic surgeries annually in Calgary through a contract with Alberta Health Services. The move aimed to free up additional spaces in hospitals, which would allow health-care staff to perform other types of surgeries, Copping said at the time.
“The reality is that far too many Albertans are waiting longer than clinically recommended,” he said.
“This is something our government cannot accept… We made a promise to Albertans that we are taking action.”
Opposition health critic David Shepherd said the expansion of surgical capacity and operating rooms is useless without a plan to hire and retain more staff.
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Shepherd accused the United Conservative government of undermining the public health system to benefit private companies.
“Danielle Smith and Jason Copping can announce all the expansion and development of hospital operating rooms they like, but that will not help one single Albertan without a plan on how to staff them,” he wrote.
“The UCP began their term in government by waging war with doctors and chased them out of the province.
“The UCP’s approach to the crisis in health care has been to undermine the public system in favour of directing resources and people to enrich private companies.”