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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

I'm sure all of you remember the television and radio ads the PC Party ran in the last election campaign where we called for the elimination of the health regions and bringing accountability back to the Legislature for health care spending. Low and behold last week, the Sask Party government took a big step in that direction. The advisory committee which they set up way back last spring finally reported to the Health Minister and the government. Their conclusion was that the health regions should be eliminated and replaced with one health region for the entire province with a CEO and Board of Directors. The Athabasca Health Region which is almost all First Nations with a heavy proportion of Federal funding will remain.

In my view, this is a huge step in the right direction but as is always the case, the devil will be in the details. Minister Reiter did not seem to have a clue at the news conference when this was announced about how this process would unfold. When the PC Party called for the elimination of the health regions over a four-year period of time, we did not envision replacing fourteen bureaucracies with another single one. We envisioned the Department of Health once again assuming responsibility for the delivery of health care and health care professionals taking responsibility for how they spend taxpayer's money.

If this is simply another clever way for the elected politicians to put a buffer between themselves and the public and not take responsibility for how the taxpayer's money is spent, then this exercise will be for not. In my view, there are tremendous possibilities for this process that has now begun. There should be more money for front-line staff. There should be the elimination of duplication by the various regions. There should be better chances for people in rural areas to have the same level of care as urban residents. And there should be the ability to now use some of the most up-to-date communication methods to provide diagnostic information which would eliminate the necessity of three and four trips over long distances for perspective patients and their procedures.

2017 is also the year in which a new fee-for-service agreement must be negotiated with Saskatchewan's doctors. I have long believed that the current structure which was basically negotiated in the heat of a doctor's strike in the early 1960's is long overdue for a modernization and revamp of responsibilities. The current process of having to go through your GP in order to get to a specialist is awkward, time-consuming and expensive in my view. It is no wonder that many Saskatchewan citizens chose to have medical procedures done outside of Saskatchewan both in Canada and in other countries.

Surely to goodness we can come up with a fair system of remuneration that isn't based on buying favour with one group or another with taxpayer's dollars and allows people to get their procedures done in a timely manner. The current system where everyone punches the cash register as the patient wonders through the system is simply unacceptable. Maybe this is a good thing that this negotiation is happening during a downturn in the economic cycle so that Mr. Wall and his friends don't have excess cash laying around like they did when they offered nurses a 36% increase in one chunk. Nurses absolutely need to be paid on par with their colleagues in surrounding jurisdictions but raises like that only brings about distrust and envy with other workers in the health care system. It's time to start doing the right things for the right reasons not simply buying political peace for whatever government happens to be sitting in Regina.

I would encourage all of you to really stay tuned into this piece because all of us either have family members, friends or acquaintances that have had a bad experience in our health system. The Sask Party government doesn't seem to have a clue how they are going to proceed with this process. I would rather they take a little bit more time and get this right. I want them to get the system of accountability in place before hiring individuals to manage our health care. We must then ensure that whatever checks and balances are put in place that the ultimate responsibility for how our money is spent and how care is delivered does not turn into another ring-around-the-rosy like we have experienced in the last 22 years.

Stay vigilant folks and don't be afraid to voice your opinion.

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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons

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