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Lack of pediatric specialists raised again at Leg

Daily Leg Update - Opposition raises plight of Sarah Turnbull, whose daughter Blake must see a gastroenterologist based out of Edmonton instead of in Saskatchewan
Sarah Turnbull and her daughter Blake, with MLA Vicki Mowat, we’re raising the issue of the need for a gastroenterologist in Saskatchewan.

REGINA - Once again the issue of a shortage of medical specialists in Saskatchewan was raised at the Legislature.

During Question Period on Monday, May 8, Opposition Leader Carla Beck grilled Premier Scott Moe over the issue of a lack of pediatric gastroenterologists in Saskatchewan. That exchange is recorded in Hansard.

Ms. Beck: — “Mr. Speaker, we’re joined today by Sarah Turnbull, who is advocating for her daughter Blake. Blake requires the care of a pediatric gastroenterologist, also known as a GI. Sarah just got back from Edmonton, a trip made so that Blake could get the care that she needs. We used to have one of these GI specialists here in Saskatchewan, but that doctor has resigned and now Blake has to go out of province.

“What does the Premier say to Sarah and her daughter Blake about the fact that they’re forced to travel out of province for care that they should be able to get here at home?”

Hon. Mr. Moe: — “Mr. Speaker, what I would say first and foremost is what the Ministry of Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority are doing when it comes to recruiting a GI, of which we need two in this province. There’s about two and a half million dollars that have been invested in this effort to recruit a couple of GIs, Mr. Speaker, but most notably one as soon as possible to the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon to provide that service to Saskatchewan families.

"And the Leader of the Opposition is correct, Mr. Speaker. We need to work together across this province to ensure that we are attracting people to work into some of the infrastructure that has been constructed here, like the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, Mr. Speaker, to attract researchers into that hospital…

Ms. Beck: — “Mr. Speaker, frankly I was expecting a little better answer than that, but I’ll go on…

“Despite the funding that’s been announced by this government, families like Sarah’s are still left with more questions than answers. They’ve been given no timelines and no information as to when this new GI specialist and team is supposed to be online. All this, Mr. Speaker, at a time when this government is sitting on windfall revenue.

“The question: when will kids like Blake be able to see a GI specialist here in Saskatchewan?”

Hon. Mr. Moe: — “Mr. Speaker, I would say as soon as possible, and this is of the highest priority for the Ministry of Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, as well as the health recruitment agency, of which we had the new CEO [chief executive officer] in the gallery here just past week.

“In the meantime — and this is a point as to what is happening in the interim time — the Minister of Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority has been working with the other provinces. If they are able to procure an intern to come in for periods of time to provide those services here in Saskatchewan until such time we can land and bring in one ... not one, but two GIs into the province, Mr. Speaker...”

Ms. Beck: — "Mr. Speaker, this specialist gave ample warning of her departure. We’ve known about this for over a year, back when we had one. We now have none.

"The Turnbulls, Mr. Speaker, are not the only ones who are impacted by this loss of our only GI specialist. Many families have to travel now to Manitoba, to Alberta just to get the care that their children need. In Manitoba they have four of these doctors. In Alberta they have eight taking new patients. But here in Saskatchewan, again, we have none.

"How is this acceptable to that Premier? And how is this growth that works for everyone?"

Hon. Mr. Moe: — “Mr. Speaker, most certainly as I said, what we are doing in the interim is talking to our neighbouring provinces and other provinces to bring in on an interim basis, someone that would be able to offer those services here in the province so our families do not have to leave for these particular services.

“And the long-term effort is to use the incentives that are in place, Mr. Speaker, the health recruitment agency that we have, to ensure that we are attracting physicians of all sorts, all specialities, including GIs, to the province of Saskatchewan.

“And as I said that effort, that initiative has attracted more than 100 specialists over the course of the last two years, Mr. Speaker. We are adding to that now…”

In speaking to reporters afterwards, Sarah Turnbull said they had recently got back from Edmonton for “pretty major surgery” for Blake. She said Blake also had surgery in Toronto and in Saskatoon.

“All of that has been a process. All of that has been parent led and advocacy. We really have to find our own solutions,” she said.

The last they had heard, they were six years on the wait list.

“We have to go back to Edmonton for post-op. It’s just really not the same medical services here in Saskatchewan as there are in other provinces, and it’s not right. We do realize there is recruitment happening and I guess more funding for staff, but I think that’s a short sighted solution. I think we are setting up our doctors to fail in Saskatchewan, because you’re not giving them the infrastructures or the tools to do their jobs.”

In speaking to reporters, Health Minister Paul Merriman said efforts to recruit a pediatric gastroenterologist is something they had been working on for a while and something the new Health and Human Resource Agency would be proactive in doing. 

Merriman said they had been reaching out to other provinces for locum coverage. “We’ve been successful in bringing that in,” Merriman said. He added they have been able to get some paediatricians to meet some of the needs. 

But Merriman acknowledged the GI position was a “very challenging position to recruit, and we are going to make sure that we have our best offer on the table for anybody who would be considering Saskatchewan.”

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