March 4, 2020
Surgeries announcement poses more questions than answers
Today Health Minister Shandro and Premier Kenney announced a $500 million investment as part of the Alberta Surgical Wait Times Initiative, and earmarked just $100 million of this amount to provide capital funding to upgrade and renovate surgical rooms and equipment and expand surgical capacity within the public system.
“As per the press conference, some of this $400 M will be going to the workforce plan that will see a modest increase in staffing for these additional surgical beds, however no real mention was made as to where the remainder of the funds will be allocated,” says Sandra Azocar Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
According to the 2020 budget, this government is cutting $117 M from acute care, which includes post-surgical beds, and is planning on reducing front-line staff. Given this, it is unclear how they plan to increase surgical capacity. “It is disingenuous to propose a 'modest increase' in surgical staff on one hand, while cutting thousands of front-line staff on the other,” says Azocar.
During today’s announcement, Premier Kenney doubled down on the supposed success of the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative, but once again failed to mention that from 2009 to 2014 the Saskatchewan government spent $176 M to create its private surgical facilities, and another $60.5 M on operating costs in 2015. He also neglected to acknowledge that while these facilities initially saw a decrease in the province’s surgical wait times, once government funding significantly slowed, wait times have been steadily climbing.
In Ernst and Young’s recent Alberta Health Services review, it was indicated that “AHS and AH have proposed a large-scale business case, requiring 669 M of investments, to improve access and coordination and management of surgery. The cost of this initiative is expected to be absorbed with AHS’ current budget.”
The government’s plan announced today is to move “lower risk” surgeries to smaller centers and to non-hospital surgical facilities – or chartered surgical facilities as they are now being referred to. More complex surgeries will be moved to large urban centers.
However, this announcement poses more questions than answers. “No clarity was provided as to what is considered lower risk, or how Albertans will be expected to travel to receive surgical services,” said Azocar.
“It is unfortunate that this government is giving only brief snippets of the Alberta Surgical Initiative, rather than providing Albertans with a full cost and benefit analysis including figures comparing anticipated costs of providing surgical services in Non-Hospital Surgical Facilities instead of within the public system,” continued Azocar.
Albertans know that contracting out surgeries is not benign – delivery matters when it comes to our health care. Again and again, this government is Albertans to accept major changes to our health care system on faith alone. This government is providing just a trickle of information at a time about this major overhaul of our surgical services, rather than presenting a clear path to achieving its presumed outcomes.
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