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REGINA CUPE is disappointed with Health Minister Dustin Duncan’s suggestion that the government might not publically fund the Plains Surgery Centre.

“The long awaited Plains Surgery Centre has been on the government to do list for seven years,” said Gordon Campbell, president of the CUPE Health Care Council.  “Instead of investing in public solutions, this government is subsidizing private, for-profit clinics that cost the public more.”

When the former NDP government first announced the centre in 2007, the project proposal called for six operating rooms with the capacity to perform 7,000 outpatient surgical procedures a year, a new diagnostic imaging centre, and a pre-admission clinic for all surgical patients in the region at a cost of just $14 million.  When the Saskatchewan Party came to power, it put the project on hold and withdrew funding.  It re-announced the project in 2010, but has not moved forward since then.

Instead, the government has been aggressively pursuing private, for-profit health care.  Beginning in 2010, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RHQR) has been contracting out surgeries and diagnostics tests under orders from the provincial government.  In 2010, arbitrator Dan Ish agreed with CUPE that the work could be done more cost effectively in the public sector.

In his decision, Ish said, “Even if additional capital expenditures have to be made, in the long term there is little doubt that the internal costs of carrying out both surgical and CT procedures would be less than the costs associated with the provision of those services by a third party.”

The government continues to claim that for-profit clinics increase surgical capacity and reduce wait times, but all the evidence from other jurisdictions shows for-profit clinics poach scarce health professionals from the public system, exacerbate wait times, and increase the cost of health services.

A briefing note from July 2013 from the Ministry of Health states that 5,385 day surgeries were performed by private clinics in RQHR between September 2010 and May 2013.  Conversely, if the Plains Surgical Centre had been built and opened as planned in March 2010, the centre would have performed 25,000 day surgeries by the end of 2013.

“If Brad Wall is serious about reducing waitlists, and serious about providing high quality patient care, the Saskatchewan Party government needs to start building the Plains Surgery Centre in Regina without further delay,” added Campbell.  “It is time for the government to stop expanding the profit margins of private companies and start investing in public infrastructure and public solutions.”