Skip to content

Private services address health care bottleneck

Aug. 30, the earth moved in Saskatchewan. In the home of Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan Party government announced they would be farming out certain day surgeries to clinics outside of a hospital setting.
GN201010309019995AR.jpg

Aug. 30, the earth moved in Saskatchewan.

In the home of Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan Party government announced they would be farming out certain day surgeries to clinics outside of a hospital setting.

Watch your back - fire and brimstone may fall from the sky and hit you on the head.

First off, let's be clear - I'm all for socialized medicine. Without it, I would probably have expired many moons ago due to 23 years as a type one diabetic. It's very important.

But that doesn't mean it should be such a sacred cow that no one can ever make any changes, or have the courage to say 'No, that's enough.'

For years I've asked finance ministers, NDP and Sask. Party alike, on budget day when they would say, "this much, no farther" regarding health care funding. Each year, the total fraction of the budget rose, from 37 per cent of all provincial spending to 42 per cent.

In the mean time, we have fewer hospital beds, long wait times on elective surgery and atrocious waits to transfer patients from expensive hospital care to less expensive long-term care. At any given time, you can find several rural hospitals closed for emergencies due to lack of doctors. Estevan is so short of physicians they have been running at about half of where they should be, and doctors aren't willing to put up with it any longer.

The measure announced by Health Minister Don McMorris is expected to cut wait times and costs. "This will help to shorten wait times for some day surgeries, and the setting will be more convenient for patients. Day surgeries will be provided and funded within our public health system, so patients will not be required to pay for services and no one will be allowed to jump the queue," he said.

There's really not much difference from this as there is going to your family physician, if you can find one, to burn out a wart. Doctor's offices are private enterprises, paid for by the public purse.

In the oil industry, you often hear about 'debottlenecking,' when facilities are upgraded. Often there is a lot of inherit capacity in a system, if you could just clear out some of the bottlenecks. In health care, some obvious bottlenecks are diagnostic imaging and other services.

We have friends in Manitoba who have a son who had profound hearing problems, and therefore his development was delayed. To get a proper hearing test done through the public sector was going to take the better part of a year. That's an awful long time for a three-year-old. They drove to Minot, N.D., and got it done in a few days. With the test results in hand, he had tubes put in his ears, and now is doing just fine.

Surgical wait times are a similar issue. MRI and CT scans are still a major concern, with one of the bottlenecks being the number of available radiologists.

We've seen similar issues with family physicians, nurses, and other professions. For the life of me, I can't figure out why there hasn't been a flood of people training for and seeking work in these areas. If we can get rid of these staffing issues, a lot of the bottlenecks go away, as well as a lot of the cost.

In the case of the Omni Surgery Centre, the clinic in Regina that will be doing this, obviously someone saw a demand for a service, and is now filling it.

The public system will survive this more-obvious example of private care. Hopefully, it will mean Granny can walk a little better, a little sooner.

- Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@sasktel.net