REGINA - The challenges in the health care system seen over the summer were a prime topic during Tuesday’s Question Period.
Opposition Leader Carla Beck grilled Premier Scott Moe over the staffing shortages seen across the province, particularly in rural areas.
The party's focus on Tuesday was the shortage in obstetricians and anesthesiologists, as well as nursing professionals.
According to the Hansard account from Tuesday's Question Period, Beck called the health care system “in crisis” and asked Moe if he agreed with his Health Minister Paul Merriman “that there’s nothing wrong with the system.”
Premier Moe responded that “we are seeing a very challenging time in our health care systems across the board after two very challenging years of facing a global pandemic…” and also pointed to their response with “the most ambitious health human resource action plan in the nation, Mr. Speaker.”
Moe then suggested the federal NDP had a role to play and asked the Opposition Leader, “with her strong relationship with the federal leader,” if she had asked federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to “advocate for a full funding partner in the federal government in the Canada Health Transfer.”
“That Premier should know that this is a problem that existed long before COVID, and he should have more than just a plan to make a plan,” Beck replied.
Beck then brought up an incident in the northwest earlier this year where a local woman was turned away from the hospital in Meadow Lake due to staffing shortages. She ended up delivering her baby on the side of the road while en route to Lloydminster Hospital.
She was "forced to deliver her baby on the side of the road because the hospital in Meadow Lake was so short-staffed," Beck said. "Imagine, Mr. Speaker, a woman in labour sent over 200 kilometres away to Lloydminster. Not surprisingly, she didn’t make it. Now luckily she and her baby were okay. But I want to know, does the Premier honestly think that this is acceptable?”
“Mr. Speaker, these are precisely the health care challenges that we are faced with, not only in Saskatchewan but across the nation of Canada,” Moe responded.
“I really think it puts forward the importance of having a very ambitious health human resource recruitment plan, a plan that is going to rectify some of the challenges that we have at least here in this province, Mr. Speaker. The most ambitious plan that I have seen in Canada is right here in the province of Saskatchewan.”
Moe also pointed to the building of new hospitals in Prince Albert and Weyburn, and urgent care centres in Regina and Saskatoon. “We’ll stand on our record in this province.”
“If they continue to stick their heads in the sand and think that their plan is adequate, we’re going to continue to see doctors leave this province for greener pastures like British Columbia,” Beck replied.
She brought up the shortage of nurses to provide maternal care in Meadow Lake, and again roasted the government for the side-of-the-road birth incident.
“Mr. Speaker, we live in the birthplace of medicare, and we have babies being delivered on the side of the road. And that Premier should be ashamed… Honestly, Mr. Speaker, is this government asking expectant mothers to plan ahead, to predict when they’re going to deliver? It is ludicrous.”
Moe responded by acknowledging “we have had interruptions, temporary interruptions across the province in various communities including, quite frankly, this past weekend in the community where I live as well. And yes, the Leader of the Opposition is right and many of these interruptions are due to a shortage of nurses, predominantly RN [registered nurse] nurses. And that’s why in the last 15 years we’ve over doubled the number of training seats that we have for RNs, nurses of all designations here in the province, Mr. Speaker.
“That’s why we are actively recruiting additional health professionals of all designations, but in particular RNs and nurses in the Philippines today.“
Beck took issue with the characterization of “temporary” service disruptions by pointing out that people in Meadow Lake “have been without obstetrical services for a year.”
“And unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, this is not an isolated incident either. Maternal care has been unavailable in Yorkton, in Swift Current, in Estevan over the recent months. No expectant parent should be in a position of not knowing whether or where they can safely deliver their child.
“And meanwhile in Ile-a-la-Crosse over the weekend, there were no emergency services available. And guess where those patients were being diverted? To Meadow Lake.”
Moe responded that “health ministers and everyone sitting on this side of the House are absolutely committed, Mr. Speaker, to ensuring that those services are retained and regained back into each of those communities where we’re seeing these temporary disruptions. Unlike, I might add, the government previous, Mr. Speaker, that took the opportunity to close those hospitals in community after community.”
Moe also pointed out that service disruptions had been happening in provinces all over Canada.
“I’m confident that the plan that the Health ministers have put in place to retain, to recruit, to train, Mr. Speaker, and to incentivize folks into our province first of all and into our health care centres, is going to show extremely tangible results in the next number of weeks this calendar year. It’s been funded by the Minister of Finance on behalf of the people of the province. And, Mr. Speaker, we’re going to put it into action in the weeks ahead.”