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Friday, 22 June 2012 11:45

Waiting game for health services continues

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Students across Canada can look forward to a summer break away from their books, but before then they still have to face up to receiving their year-end report card, which might not always be such a pleasant experience.


Provincial governments received a report card of sorts this week when the Wait Time Alliance (WTA) released its latest assessment of provincial performance on five areas of medical treatments.
The WTA consists of several national medical specialty societies that aim to highlight their concerns over delayed access to health care through annual national report cards on wait times.
The 2012 results indicate improvements in some provinces, but the report describes the overall finding as a “worsening of performance” against government benchmarks. The report indicates people’s access to medical treatments will not only depend on the province they live in, but the heath regions within provinces.
The wait time report card for Saskatchewan shows the province to be an average student with two A’s (for radiation therapy and heart coronary artery bypass graft), two C’s (for hip joint replacement and cataract surgery) and one D (for knee joint replacement).
Saskatchewan’s performance in two categories — the A’s for radiation therapy and heart coronary artery bypass graft — is equivalent to the national grade, but the province performed below average in the other three categories. The C’s for hip joint replacement and cataract surgery is below the national B average and the D grade for knee joint replacement is less than the national C average.
Ontario was the star student with A grades in all categories, but that might be coming at a hefty price. While the government of Premier Dalton McGuinty is struggling with a projected $15.3-billion deficit this year, the plan to balance the books does not include any major cuts to health care or education.
The McGuinty government is proposing a three-year freeze on any salary increases for doctors, teachers and government workers, which have already raised concerns Ontario will lose doctors to other provinces.
The WTA report indicates it will require more than just money to address wait times. It emphasizes the impact of alternate-levels-of-care (ALC) on wait times. The ALC effect results from using hospital beds for patients that should be cared for in a different way, thereby reducing the beds available for surgery patients and thus increasing wait times.
To reduce the impact of ALC on wait times, the WTA report suggests more effective strategies to assist older adults with illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This might include community based solutions such as primary care, specialist care and home care services that are aimed at keeping seniors in the community or providing more long-term care beds for acute care patients.
Saskatchewan’s growing population combined with its aging population will continue to present a challenge in reducing wait times.
In addition, the federal government’s intention to start reducing its health transfers to the provinces in 2017 will increase the funding pressure on provincial governments.
Last week Saskatchewan’s two largest health regions — Regina Qu’Appelle and Saskatoon — indicated they are facing budget shortfalls that will prevent them from reaching provincial targets for surgical wait times.
The provincial government’s response has been clear — the health regions will have to make do with their existing funding allocations and look for greater efficiencies in delivering services.
For health managers the question will be how to find efficiencies in a system where around 80 per cent of annual budget costs go towards staff salaries and benefits. The Saskatchewan government’s aim is to do it through a combination of specific targets and new initiatives such as Lean principles and using private surgical clinics to deliver publicly-funded services.
Premier Brad Wall and P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz are co-chairing the Health Care Innovation Working Group (HCIWG), which was created by provincial leaders at a Council of Federation meeting in January to promote health care collaboration.
The HCIWG is scheduled to deliver its first report at next month’s Council of Federation meeting in Halifax. Achieving any consensus between the provinces and territories is no easy task, but not doing so on health-care delivery will only mean more report cards with no improvements.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter/photographer with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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