The president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses says her members are worried about changes under a program known as Lean.

The provincial government is spending $40 million over four years for the program, which looks for ways to reduce spending and streamline health care.

"SUN was hopeful at the outset that Lean concepts would be effective," SUN president Tracy Zambory said in a message posted on the union's website. "It's very disappointing this is turning out not to be the case in practice."

Zambory's message went on to claim that front-line nurses are reporting that Lean is proving to have little impact on direct care at the bedside or on patient outcomes.

"The linear, production-line approach to creating efficiencies does not take into account the flexibility needed to deal with increasing and evolving complexities and acuities of patients we are seeing today," Zambory added.

Premier Brad Wall has defended the program, saying it has already paid for itself with savings on two new hospital designs and with ways to reduce wait times.

The premier says it's about better care and more efficiency.

Zambory urged the government to go "back to the drawing board" and re-think the initiative.

"Lean is not entirely transferable to Saskatchewan’s health system," she said. "It’s not always easy admitting a mistake, especially for governments who are at the mercy of their voters and constituents."

Minister surprised

Health Minister Dustin Duncan was taken by surprise by Zambory's statement because nurses had expressed support for Lean.

In August, it was reported that Zambory found there were "many commendable transformational changes" happening under the umbrella of Lean.

On Tuesday, Duncan said he met with Zambory twice in person and spoke with her twice over the phone in the last six weeks or so and no concerns were raised.

"We have 44,000 employees in the health-care system and to get everybody to agree to anything is probably not going to be possible, but I'm a little bit surprised by the release today from SUN," Duncan told reporters at the legislature.

The health minister would not speculate on whether the statement is connected contract talks that nurses are in.

"The deputy minister of health is going to meet with SUN on Friday and so we'll explore what these seemingly new concerns are around Lean."

Lean was originally created in the manufacturing sector, but has since been applied to many other sectors and industries

With files from The Canadian Press