REGINA - The opposition New Democrats have announced they will be crisscrossing the province to seek input on the health care issues facing Saskatchewan.
At the legislature on Wednesday, the NDP’s Health Critic Vicki Mowat and Rural and Remote Health Critic Matt Love announced plans to tour the province over the next few months on a “Health Care Solutions Tour.”
The plan is for the two Opposition MLAs to seek input from health care professionals, patients and local leaders “who feel like their home grown solutions are being ignored,” said Mowat.
“Our hospitals and the people working in them are hanging on by a thread. And if we don’t come up with ambitious solutions that are realistic ASAP, other provinces will keep taking our health care workers.”
The tour is to start Thursday with visits to Cupar, Southey and Saskatoon, with Mowat and Love set to hold meetings there.
They plan to go on from there to other communities, including ones that have been hit hard by service disruptions over the past several months due to staffing shortages. The MLAs stressed that they wanted to meet those who knew what was happening on the ground.
Love repeated a familiar NDP theme by characterizing the government’s health care hiring plan as inadequate “because they refused to consult with the folks who have the answers. This out of touch government has stopped listening to people on the front line.”
“And that’s exactly why we will be touring the province, to hear from healthcare workers, from experts and local people who know their hospitals, and who know what’s needed to fix it. If (Premier) Scott Moe won’t consult healthcare workers, we will.”
Mowat also repeated another familiar NDP health care theme: she accused the government of not doing enough to stem the tide of health care workers leaving for greener pastures in other provinces.
“We’re in a national hiring competition and the Provincial Auditor confirmed the Sask Party has no credible strategy to retain the doctors and nurses that are already here,” said Mowat. “In 2021, 600 more health staff left than were hired… and the Sask Party didn’t even conduct exit interviews to find out why. If you ask me, they don’t want to know why.”
Opposition tour follows string of government "good news" announcements
The Opposition tour comes on the heels of a string of “good news” announcements from the Moe government p in the past few weeks on health care, particularly announcements of recruitment and job offers.
Last week, the Ministry of Health reported 160 job offers to Filipino health care workers, stemming from their recent recruitment mission for nursing positions in the Philippines. Their news release also reported the Ministry of Health has received over 600 applications from internationally educated health-care workers including over 500 from Saskatchewan.
On Tuesday in Saskatoon, Health Minister Paul Merriman and Minister of Advanced Education Gord Wyant announced an initial $5.5 million going towards creating 550 training spots at post secondary institutions for health care training programs. The funding spans 18 areas including Medical Laboratory Assistant, Continuing Care Assistant, Primary Care Paramedic, Licensed Practical Nurse, Pharmacy Technician, Clinical Psychologist, Physical Therapist and Mental Health and Addictions Counsellor training.
On Wednesday, the province made a further announcement that new paramedic positions were being added to Emergency Medical Services in Regina. According to the province's news release 24.5 full-time equivalent paramedic positions to be phased in over the next three months.
"We've heard from residents and paramedics that we need to do more to improve ambulance response times," Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a statement. "We are committed to providing Saskatchewan patients with timely access to emergency medical services. This increase in Regina EMS resource capacity will help patients and better balance the workload for our paramedics."
NDP not impressed
The opposition NDP remain unconvinced by the recent string of provincial announcements.
“The government has been spending so much more time spinning the numbers, than actually fixing the problems,” said Mowat.
Mowat pointed to the Provincial Auditor’s report. “The provincial auditor has been very clear that even with the government’s human resources plan, we are still going to fall 1,000 positions short of health care workers, even with a plan in place. And the plan includes training, that was a pillar of the plan. So we will be looking at the details closely to see what those numbers actually look like, and speaking with and doing that consultation that the government hasn’t been doing in the leadup to that plan, to find out what is required by each of these different fields as we move forward.”
“What we have is a government that is putting out these big statements, patting themselves on the back, for a few dozen job offers, wanting credit for offering positions while not counting the people who are leaving the workforce,” Love said. “And that’s been classic SaskParty spin… to count the hires or the offers without counting the hundreds of people who are leaving the workforce.”
Love said they instead have to rely on independent officers like the auditor, with her report showing the province had ended the year with 600 fewer health care workers. “That cuts through the spin, and tells you exactly the interest of this government is to spin the numbers instead of being honest about who’s coming in and how many are leaving.”