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The Saskatchewan government and health region claimed contracting-out surgeries to for-profit clinics would expand surgical capacity and reduce the backlog. But one year later, the number of surgeries has dropped, not increased.

The most recent information available on the government’s surgical website shows 20,452 surgeries were performed in the health region between September 2010 and July 2011, while 20,463 surgeries were done over the same period a year before.

The data also suggest the use of private surgical clinics has harmed the capacity of the public health system. The region saw 576 fewer surgeries performed in public operating rooms. In contrast, 565 surgeries were performed in Omni’s private clinic.

Instead of expanding surgical capacity, the region has simply transferred the surgical work to the private sector,” says Gordon Campbell, president of the CUPE Health Care Council.

That’s not what the Saskatchewan government and health region promised would happen when they privatized these medical services a year ago.

In a Leader-Post article dated October 1, 2010, Health Minister McMorris said the government was building capacity in the public system, but needed to use private clinics to get caught up. Similarly, a government briefing note dated February 27, 2011, claimed: “We are expanding both public and private sector capacity in order to reduce surgical wait times.”

Campbell dismisses the health region’s suggestion that private clinics have helped to reduce wait times. “Wait times have been dropping for eight years,” he says.