Long waiting lists for appointments with a hearing specialist will get even longer after the Saskatoon Health Region cut two audiology jobs, according to the union representing health professionals in Saskatchewan.
Two audiologists, one in Saskatoon and another in Prince Albert, Sask., lost their jobs last month when the health region cut 70 positions in an effort to balance its budget.
- 70 people laid off as Saskatoon Health Region looks to balance budget
- Reinvest in health care, and reverse Saskatoon cuts says union
Both specialists worked on the health region's hearing aid plan, which provides evaluations and fittings for children and adult patients.
People in the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region will now need to travel to Saskatoon to access the publicly-funded program.
The Saskatoon Health Region said in a statement that it was looking at ways to improve access and reduce wait lists.
"This includes working with our teams on how we can validate the need of those on the wait list and improve our service," it said.
"Residents, though, can continue to access private audiology services provided in the community."
It did not say how long adult patients are currently waiting to see a hearing specialist in Saskatoon, but it said children were seen within four to six weeks.
Huge impact, says union president
Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan president Karen Wasylenko said patients were already waiting 16 months or longer to see an audiologist in Saskatoon.
Wasylenko said losing the hearing specialist in Prince Albert would have a huge impact on patients in northern communities.
"There is no publicly funded service north of Saskatoon and significant travel may be required," she said in an email to CBC.
"The elderly, the ill, and persons with limited financial resources, including access to a vehicle or funds to pay for bus tickets, will be significantly disadvantaged."
Increasing pressure on Saskatoon
She said former Prince Albert patients would now be seeking treatment in Saskatoon, increasing pressure on that system.
Wasylenko believes children will be among the worst affected because hearing problems limit their ability to learn speech and language.
She questioned why more health jobs were not created when the province was booming to lessen the impact when economic times got tough.
"We're cutting into programs that are going to impact for a very long time into next generations," she said.
The health region now has four full-time equivalent audiology positions working on its hearing aid plan in Saskatoon, and three working with the department of audiology at Royal University Hospital.