While the ink is still drying on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new, $196.1-billion health-care funding offer to the provinces, those on the front lines in Saskatchewan are weighing in on where they think any new money should be spent.
The proposal includes an immediate $2-billion top-up to the Canada Health Transfer and $46.2 billion in total new money for health care over the next 10 years, including $25 billion in new money for 10-year bilateral deals that would be negotiated individually with each province and territory.
Saskatoon family physician Adam Ogieglo says primary care needs to be a key focus as Saskatchewan receives new money.
“Right now it’s very difficult to get a family physician in our province’s biggest city,” he said.
“That is not acceptable.”
One recent study suggests Saskatchewan has the third-longest walk-in clinic wait times in the country. Ogieglo says that while the new funding is a good start, more will likely be needed to recruit doctors and properly improve accessibility to primary care in Saskatchewan.
“It’s a significant infusion of money, but it’s a small fraction, I think, of what the provincial governments were asking for,” he said.
Ogieglo adds that he had hoped to see something like conditional clawbacks built into the offer to prevent funding from being errantly spent.
“I think there should be strings attached to new money coming from the federal government,” he said.
“I think it serves the people of our country well to have more accountability built into any health-care deals being done, so I’m 100 per cent in support of there being strings attached and built-in accountability for everyone.”
Data collection and sharing was also highlighted in Ottawa’s plan as an area provinces will need to improve upon with the new money.
“We’re doing better at that. I think there can be better sharing,” Ogieglo said. “There isn’t one chart for a patient and so there’s lots of things that I do that are not available to other physicians and providers to see what I’ve considered and the history taking that I take. We can definitely do a better job of sharing medical information through the circle of care.”
The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN), meanwhile, is calling for a task force to help better understand and react to the need for nurses’ services.
“With that nursing task force, we can start having the conversation with registered nurses, with health-care workers. We can talk about the support, recruitment and retention strategy,” said SUN president Tracy Zambory.
“We have to talk about how to retain the registered nurses that are there so that we can recruit in those new grads, so we can recruit in the internationally educated nurses and create that strong foundation that they’ll learn from and that they’ll want to stay in. That makes a vibrant health-care system.”
Zambory agreed that a renewed focus on data collection will benefit the system.
“We’ve got to look at the data and the outcomes, to look at the data for how we’re managing recruitment, retention and returning, and how successful those things are,” Zambory said.
“Right at this point in time, data for us is very slow coming. I couldn’t tell you how many registered nurses we’re short.”
The Saskatchewan NDP also weighed in on the topic Wednesday.
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“I know the amount the federal government is putting forward falls short of what was requested and that is a concern,” said leader Carla Beck.
“At the same time, the initial investment of $2 billion to the provinces on an unconditional basis is much-needed. There certainly is a need for investment in this country and this province.”
Beck agreed the plight of those working on the front lines of the health-care system needs to be examined as the province goes about negotiating its bilateral deal.
“We are a province that lost 600 health-care workers last year. We had at one point in the summer last year 37 different communities dealing with service disruptions largely because they were unable to staff critical areas of service be it physicians, nurses or lab and X-ray technologists.”
Beck said her party will also strive to ensure any new money expands Saskatchewan’s health-care system, and that new health-care funding doesn’t go towards other projects.
“This has to be increased investment. That is what we don’t want to see, is this being used by the provincial government to backfill other areas.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said at a premiers’ press conference Tuesday afternoon that “we need a couple days to digest what was presented here today and what impact it would have to our provincially respective health-care systems.”
Global News requested an interview with either Moe or Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman Wednesday. Instead, an emailed statement from Moe said the funding proposal was “disappointing.”
“The federal government has had years to respond to the unanimous request from all provinces and territories to become a full funding partner. Yesterday’s long-awaited meeting confirmed they have no interest in doing so,” it read.
“The details of the offer amount to a 2 per cent increase, and falls short in outlining a path forward for long term, sustainable funding that all Premiers have been calling for.”
The statement said the province will be “evaluating the proposal and having further discussions” with the Council of the Federation expected to meet again.
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