Edmonton

Alberta to delay move to more private surgical facilities due to pandemic

The use of private facilities was part of the Alberta Surgical Initiative announced in December. Under the plan, the government would fund 80,000 additional procedures by 2022-23 and move lower-risk procedures out of hospitals.

Original target was to have 30 per cent of surgeries privately performed by 2023

The plan to reduce wait times by using more private surgical facilities was announced in December.  (Shutterstock)

The Alberta government is delaying its plan to move some publicly funded procedures to facilities run by private, for-profit companies, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The increased use of private facilities was part of the Alberta Surgical Initiative announced in December. Under the plan, the government would fund 80,000 additional procedures by 2022-23 and move lower-risk procedures out of hospitals.

On Jan. 31, Alberta Health Services issued a call to determine how many companies were interested in providing surgical services for a list of procedures that included hernia repair and mastectomies.

The original deadline of Feb. 28 has now been extended to Dec. 31. The government originally planned to start moving procedures to private facilities by the fall of 2020. That plan has now been delayed.

Steve Buick, press secretary for Health Minister Tyler Shandro, said the government still intends to push ahead with the plan. 

"Our commitment to the goal of the Alberta Surgical Initiative remains intact — to give Albertans the best access to elective surgery in Canada by providing every elective surgery within the time recommended by experts," Buick said in a statement.

"The pandemic has obviously impacted system capacity and the timeline to achieve our wait-time goals will likely have to be adjusted. With elective surgery only just recently restarted and still with reduced capacity, it's too soon to give details."

Procedures still publicly funded

The plan to reduce wait times by using more private surgical facilities was announced in December. 

The call for expressions of interest was issued at the end of January. An accompanying document provided more information about which procedures the province was hoping to move out of hospitals. 

The list included hernia repair, mastectomies, fallopian tube and ovary procedures, endometrial ablation, gall bladder removal, knee arthroscopy and ligament repair and shoulder, hand, wrist, foot and ankle repair.

Other procedures in the document were deemed "to be determined." They included circumcision, hardware removal, cataract and retinal surgeries, hip repair and removal of bladder tumours. 

The government's intention was to have 30 per cent of surgeries performed outside hospitals by 2022-23. The procedures would still be funded through medicare but would be delivered by for-profit health-care companies. 

Both the MacKinnon report on Alberta finances and the Ernst and Young review of Alberta Health Services suggested the use of private surgical facilities could save money. 

David Shepherd, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-City Centre and the opposition critic for health, said Alberta's response to the pandemic has shown how quickly publicly-funded and delivered health care system can respond to a crisis. 

"Certainly Albertans again have seen the value of our public services," Shepherd said.

"We've seen how well we were able to build. We have the capacity and we're able to fire it up very quickly because of the investment we've made in public health care system."

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