Saskatchewan

Sask. NDP say documents show health officials left 'scrambling' after announcement STC was closing

The Saskatchewan NDP has obtained documents under freedom of information legislation that show health officials looked at how the Saskatchewan Transportation Company's closure would affect the transportation of patients and medical supplies.

Example of 'shoot first, aim second' style of government, NDP says

The Saskatchewan Transportation Company offered its last rides in May of 2017, once the Saskatchewan government decided to close it down. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan NDP is accusing the Sask. Party government of cutting the Saskatchewan Transportation Company bus system before evaluating the impact of that closure on the Ministry of Health.

Through freedom of information legislation, the party obtained briefing material and correspondence between health officials discussing the closure of the STC, which was used to transport patients and medical supplies.

"It's always shoot first, aim second with the Sask. Party," NDP STC critic Doyle Vermette said in a release issued by the party on Wednesday. 

In an email dated March 24 from assistant deputy health minister Mark Wyatt to health officials, he inquired about the eligibility for the northern transportation benefit, saying, "Any thoughts on the impact of the STC loss?

"Do we co-ordinate medical taxis or other transportation with federal [government] that mitigates STC loss — or do we believe STC is a major source of transport and creates a significant gap?" the email reads.

The NDP says the email demonstrates health officials were "scrambling" to figure out to ways to deal with the impact to patient services just days after the government announced in its spring budget it was shuttering the Crown corporation.

Sask. NDP health critic Danielle Chartier says the health minister supported the closure of STC without knowing the impacts to the services he's responsible for. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

"We have a [health] minister who clearly didn't know the impact of those cuts," said NDP health critic Danielle Chartier. 

"He voted for this and on budget day clapped along with everybody else in support of the cut to STC."

A briefing note sent between health officials in April states the closure affects patients who used the service for specialized medical appointments and to access drugs.

Health Minister Jim Reiter acknowledged that closing STC will be inconvenient for people, but is confident the transportation of medical supplies can be done through courier services. (CBC)

Health Minister Jim Reiter acknowledged Wednesday that closing STC will be inconvenient for people, but is confident the transportation of medical supplies can be done through courier services.

"I just fundamentally disagree with this approach that [the NDP have] that somehow … because the province doesn't own a bus company, that it has a detrimental effect on health care. No other province owns a bus company," he said.

"Other provinces get medical supplies around their province and people get to medical appointments."

Ministries to investigate impacts

The April briefing note indicates that branches within the ministries of health, social services and government relations would form an action team to further investigate the impacts of the wind down of the service, to explore available transportation options for eligible patients.

The document lists a number of agencies and programs, ranging from dental services to the West Nile Virus program, that used the bus company to ship medications and supplies, and to transport patients to appointments.

It explains courier services could be used to ship drugs and other resources, albeit for a likely higher price.

For example, the document says the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency spent nearly $18,000 during the 2016-17 fiscal year on shipping medications and supplies using STC. 

"Courier services would cost more, but these costs have yet to be determined," it reads. 

In the case of some cancer treatments, it says some patients could instead access treatment closer to their home communities through telehealth services.

The Northern Medical Transportation Program, funded through social services, would be also minimally affected because not many people claimed bus trips.

Sask. disease control lab relied 'heavily' on STC

The note says that STC was "heavily" relied upon to ship specials for the Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory and shipping contracts for all the health regions except for one had been re-established with courier services.

"STC is almost exclusively used to move chemotherapy, blood and blood products to hospitals across the province," the note reads.

"These products cannot be shipped by central services couriers as they cannot provide the same timelines and temperature protection."

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