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Contrary to the Saskatchewan Health Minister’s claim, contracting-out surgeries to a private for- profit clinic in Regina is not cost-effective and could harm the capacity of the public system to deliver timely medical procedures.

Health Minister McMorris announced this week that the government is paying Omni Surgery Centre about $1,500 for each knee surgery performed at the clinic, stating it was cheaper than the in-hospital cost which the government estimates is $1,700.

But CUPE says the government is “botoxing” the public sector costs to make Omni Surgery Centre – which specializes in cosmetic surgery – look better. The union predicts that just like plastic surgery, the government’s costing won’t hold up when it takes the matter before an arbitrator later this month.

According to the interprovincial billing rates, Saskatchewan pays less than $1,000 for out-patients when they have the same surgical procedure done in a public facility in another province. The rates, available on the Ontario Health Ministry’s website, show the public cost is $997 for day care surgery.

“The out-patient rate agreement suggests for every two knee surgeries performed by Regina’s privately-owned clinic, three could be performed in a public facility for the same cost,” said CUPE national researcher Cheryl Stadnichuk. “Investing scarce health care resources in a private-for-profit clinic is not a good investment unless you are one of the company’s shareholders – a list that includes a number of orthopedic surgeons from the health region,” she stated.

The CUPE Health Council has referred the matter to arbitration stating it violates the collective agreement. According to article 6.02 in the agreement, the employer can only contract-out services if it will result in “significant savings” and “maintain the quality of health services.”

CUPE staff representative Suzanne Posyniak said the government’s contracting-out plan fails on both counts.

Instead of privatizing health services, the government should expand the capacity of the public health system. “The truth is hospital operating rooms, Computed Tomography (CT) scans and diagnostic equipment in Regina’s hospitals are not working to full capacity and could be much better utilized,” she said.

For example, the three CT scans in Regina only take appointments during the day. Two CT scans operate in the evening, but only on an emergency basis, she said. In addition, the CT area at the Regina General Hospital is often short-staffed. “Fewer people working mean fewer CT scans are done.”

CUPE represents 5,500 health care providers in the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, including licensed practical nurses and medical technologists and technicians.