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Regina: Provincial wait times for most surgical procedures have dropped dramatically in recent years, but the Saskatchewan government could jeopardize that progress if it opens the door to private-for-profit surgical clinics, warns Kathy Storrie, President of the Saskatchewan Health Coalition.

Storrie says the government’s announcement last week that it may pay for surgeries to be performed in private clinics “is reckless in light of the evidence” and could do much more harm than good.

Proponents of private health care often use wait times as a reason to justify the introduction of for-profit services such as surgical clinics, says Mike McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition. But all of the best evidence shows wait times are often worse in places that allow private health services, he says.

The jury is no longer out. We know from experience that private clinics exacerbate wait times, poach scarce health professionals from the public sector and increase the cost of health services,” says McBane, the national coalition’s co-ordinator.

A Manitoba study, for example, found that patients whose doctors worked only in public facilities waited ten weeks for cataract surgery, while patients whose doctors worked in both public and private facilities, waited 26 weeks.

It also costs more to have surgeries done in private clinics. Hip replacement surgery cost about $10,000 when it was performed in a public hospital in Alberta in 2005. The same surgery in a for-profit clinic can cost up to $21,780.

Cheryl Stadnichuk, a researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, questions why the Saskatchewan government would consider private surgical options now, when a federal/provincial strategy to reduce wait times has enjoyed so much success.

Implemented in 2004 at a First Ministers’ Meeting, the 10-year plan involves a $5.5 billion wait time reduction fund, the implementation of evidence-based benchmarks for medically acceptable wait times and follow-up.

As a result of the co-ordinated strategy, wait times for medically necessary surgeries have dropped significantly in Saskatchewan – and across the country.

In March 2004, for example, 70 per cent of patients requiring knee replacement surgery in Saskatchewan had waited longer than 26 weeks for the surgery – the pan Canadian benchmark. By June 2009, that figure had dropped to 39 per cent, according to information from the Saskatchewan Surgical Care Network.

Wait times for hip surgeries also have dropped. In March 2004, 57 per cent of people requiring the surgery had waited longer than 26 weeks. By June 2009, that figure had dropped to 30 per cent.

The national-provincial strategy is a success story involving public sector solutions to reduce wait time,” says Stadnichuk.  “Yet, these successes were not even mentioned in the Saskatchewan government’s speech from the throne or in Mr. Dagnone’s final report on health care.”

Storrie hopes that once the Saskatchewan government looks at the evidence, it will realize that paying for private surgeries is not the best option for reducing wait times or improving our public health care system.

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Contact:  Kathy Storrie or Cheryl Stadnichuk in Regina on Friday at 539-0446
Mike McBane at 613-277-6295