Alberta health care can be better -- NDP wait times announcement is a step in the right direction
Nobody should have to wait for longer than necessary for a surgery that they need, and today's announcement of a $90 million per year strategic investment will address some of the immediate issues that are pressing for Albertans. Rachel Notley promised that if the NDP are re-elected, they are committed to providing funding increases for cancer surgeries, open heart surgeries and cataract surgeries, while all other surgeries would also see an increase over the three years. The announcement also included a promise to increase access to specialists directly from the ER, and to expand emergency psychiatrist access to 24 hours.
"When asked, almost all of us will have a wait time story to tell. We have had to wait in emergency departments, wait to see family physicians, wait for tests, procedures and surgeries," said Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. "These investments are great first steps from which to build on. We are hopeful that some of this investment will also go towards addressing the systemic issues that have created the wait lists that we Albertans experience."
Many factors determine how long patients wait, including level of pain and disability, medical condition, scheduling conflicts, access to diagnostic testing, and availability of post surgical beds. Our current system is fragmented, and it would benefit from developing an integrated, transdisciplinary model of care.
"While this investment is a welcome step to addressing the pressing issue of wait times, we are hopeful that we will also see a reallocation of existing health services and resources to allow people to move more quickly through the system," states Azocar.
A great place to start would be to free up hospitals to do what they should be doing, looking after acutely ill people and performing procedures and surgeries. For years, we have seen lack of acute care beds and long term care facilities at the crux of the issue of wait-times. As cost cutting measures in the mid-1990s, the province closed half its hospital beds (from 13,000 to 6,500) when the population was around 2.6 million people. Since 2017 when the population hit 4.2 million, we have 8,448 acute care beds, or 1 hospital bed for every 507 Albertans.
Governments have dealt with this shortage by opening day surgeries, expanding ambulatory care, and increasing investment in home care as a way of reducing hospital stays. But those measures quickly reached their limit given the population growth that we experienced as a province. For years, emergency departments and hospitals have experienced overcrowding and have been unable to do what they are supposed to do. Surgeries and procedures get cancelled, wait times increase and everyone gets delayed care.
Friends of Medicare is hopeful that this commitment to addressing wait times signals the undoing of some of the long-standing systemic barriers to health care access, and will lead to more timely care for all Albertans.
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