As the province emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, many people find themselves on waiting lists for a number of surgeries. The backlog was the result of elective surgeries being canceled due to the pandemic and resources needed for surgeries being allocated to other areas.
With more than 22,000 people waiting more than three months for surgery, and 8,600 of those waiting more than 12 months, the provincial government is considering a number of options to reduce the backlog. This includes out-of-province initiatives for hip and knee replacements, as well as increasing capacity within the province.
With wait times high across the country, one group suggests 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 at this and the more we look at it, the more we find that this is a policy that could help governments in Canada immediately reduce the backlog on waiting lists,” explained Colin Craig.
SecondStreet.org president Craig authored a policy brief that looked at the system currently in use in the European Union. SecondStreet is an organization that examines the stories of Canadians 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 EU policy that Craig is referring to is their cross-border healthcare policy. Patients can choose a public or private healthcare facility in another EU country and have their surgical bills reimbursed by their home country. As long as the surgery is recommended by a doctor and the surgery is covered by their own country’s healthcare system, they are reimbursed up to the cost the government would have paid if the surgery had taken place in their country of residence. origin.
“It’s a way for patients to get surgery much faster, and when you think about it from a government perspective, they’re not really paying more money for it, they’re just paying for it sooner rather than later, so it’s a way that patients could immediately find relief from pain they might be experiencing on long waiting lists,” Craig said. “In some cases, it could even potentially save lives.”
Here in Saskatchewan, efforts are being made to increase the number of surgeries performed, with a goal of 7,000 more surgeries in 2022-23 than the highest level ever. A recent statement from the provincial health ministry said there were 5,000 more surgeries from January to May this year than in the previous five months in 2021, when services were curtailed.
There are still problems related to the lack of human resources or capacity to meet the demand in the existing facilities. This is causing the provincial government to consider temporary out-of-province options for things like hip and knee replacements. This would be done by contracting with third-party surgery centers for a limited number of low-risk patients, with the procedures being publicly funded.
The SecondStreet guidance note proposes having more options for the patient, where they could choose where to go rather than specific contract doctors.
Craig explained that the benefits of a policy like this, adopted across the country, are not limited to those who would travel to do procedures faster than they would have to wait at home.
“Another advantage of this policy is that it also helps patients who do not decide to travel for health care, because each time a patient in front of them decides to leave the public system and go to another country for health care, then that other patient can move up one spot on the waiting list.
There would also be the cost factor.
In Europe, those who decide to travel for health care are responsible for their own travel costs. However, depending on where the person chooses to go for the surgery, there could be cost savings to the province.
Under EU policy, the government pays the cost up to what it would pay if the operation was performed in the country of origin if the person chooses to have the operation where the cost is less expensive, the government saves money.
We contacted the provincial Department of Health to comment on the guidance note. They provided a written response to our request. In it, they said the provincial budget for the current fiscal year includes $21.6 million for increased surgical volumes. However, no direct comment was provided on the guidance note itself.