As the province comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people find themselves on waitlists for a number of surgeries. The backlog was a result of elective surgeries being canceled as a result of the pandemic, and the allocation of the resources needed for the surgeries to other areas.
With over 22,000 people waiting more than three months for surgery, and 8600 of those waiting more than 12 months, the provincial government is looking at a number of options to alleviate the backlog. This includes out-of-province initiatives for hip and knee replacement surgeries, as well as scaling up capacity in the province.
With the wait times high across the country, one group is suggesting that jurisdictions like Saskatchewan look across the Atlantic Ocean for a solution.
“We heard about a policy in Europe that helps patients avoid long waiting lists, gives them more choice, and we thought, you know what? Let’s look into this and the more we looked into it, we saw that this is a policy that could help governments in Canada reduce waiting list backlogs immediately,” explained Colin Craig.
The president of SecondStreet.org, Craig is the author of a policy brief that looked at the system currently in use in the European Union. SecondStreet is an organization that looks at the stories of Canadians from across the country and how they are affected by government decisions.
“It would give patients an option instead of having to wait, sometimes years, for healthcare in this country. They could get it right away,” Craig added.
The policy in the EU that Craig is referring to is their cross-border health care policy. Patients can choose a public or private health care facility in another EU country, and be funded for their surgical bills by their home country. As long as the surgery has a referral from a doctor, and the surgery is covered by their own country’s health care system, they are funded up to the cost the government would have paid had the surgery taken place in their home country.
“It’s a way that patients could get surgery much faster, and when you think about it from the government perspective, they’re not really paying more money for this, they’re just paying it sooner rather than later, so it’s a way that patients could immediately find relief from pain that they might be experiencing on long wait lists,” Craig stated. “In some cases, this could even potentially save some lives.”
Here in Saskatchewan, there is an effort to ramp up the number of surgeries being performed, with a goal of 7,000 more surgeries in 2022-23 than the highest-ever level. A recent release from the provincial Ministry of Health touted there had been 5,000 more surgeries from January to May this year than in the preceding five months in 2021 when services were slowed down.
There are still issues with not having enough human resources or capacity to meet the demand within the existing facilities. This has the provincial government looking at temporary, out-of-province options for things such as hip and knee replacements. To do this, a contract would be entered into with third-party surgery centers for a limited number of low-risk patients, with the procedures publicly funded.
The policy brief from SecondStreet proposes to have more options for the patient, where they could choose where to go as opposed to specific contracted doctors.
Craig explained that the benefits of a policy like this, adopted across the country, aren’t limited to those who would be traveling to get the procedures done quicker than they would have to wait at home.
“One other benefit of this policy is that it also helps patients who don’t decide to travel for healthcare, because every time a patient ahead of them in line does decide to leave the public system and go to another country for healthcare, then that other patient gets to move ahead one spot in the waiting list.”
There would also be the cost factor.
In Europe, those who decide to travel for healthcare are responsible for their own travel costs. However, depending on where the person opts to travel for the surgery, there could be cost savings for the province.
Under the EU policy, with the government paying for the cost up to what they would be paying if the surgery was performed in the home country if the person elects to have a surgery where the cost is less expensive, the government saves money.
We reached out to the provincial Ministry of Health to comment on the policy brief. They did provide a written response to our query. In it, they stated that the provincial budget for the current fiscal year did provide $21.6 million for increased surgical volumes. However, no direct comment was provided about the policy brief itself.