Alberta is expanding the use of a private surgical center in Calgary to reduce wait times

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Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping says about 70,000 Albertans are currently waiting for surgeries — down from a peak of more than 85,000 in November 2021, according to the Alberta Surgical Initiative dashboard. JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta hires an independent health care facility to perform thousands of orthopedic surgeries each year in Calgary as part of its plan to reduce surgical wait times and increase hospital capacity.

Health Secretary Jason Copping announced Monday that Canadian Surgery Solutions, which operates surgical clinics across Canada, has been awarded a contract with Alberta Health Services to provide 3,000 publicly funded hip and knee replacement surgeries and other joint procedures every year. Such orthopedic surgeries make up the largest group on the waiting list in Calgary alone, with 6,000 patients, he added.

Dozens of operations have been canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing provinces across the country to look for ways to clear the backlog. Ontario is following the lead of Alberta and other provinces such as Quebec and Saskatchewan, which are already using private clinics to perform publicly funded surgeries. In contrast, British Columbia is pumping money into its public health system at the expense of private operators accused of not using enough operating rooms.

Critics of increased private involvement in health care have argued that hiring independent surgery centers will drain resources from the public system and elsewhere, and have warned against additional billing or upselling.

But Mr. Copping said that the United Conservative Party government is working to expand the public system. He said that because private clinics offer the same procedure repeatedly, it is a cheaper and more effective route for certain procedures and allows hospitals to focus on more complex cases.

Overall, the health secretary said about 70,000 Albertans are currently waiting for surgeries — up from a peak of more than 85,000 in November 2021, according to the Alberta Surgical Initiative dashboard. The latest data shows that around 52 percent of patients waited longer than recommended in the last month waiting for their respective procedures, three percentage points less than in December 2021.

“The waiting times are too long and we need to get rid of them,” said Mr Copping. “This means that we have to finance more operations, and we have to use every tool at our disposal to do this. We want to increase operating rooms in hospitals and contract leased surgical facilities to increase that capacity.”

He said the partnership will increase the total number of orthopedic surgeries in Calgary by 21 per cent. About 21,200 people in Alberta are on the orthopedic waiting list. The national guideline for knee or hip surgery is about six months, but on average it takes more than twice that for Albertans.

Mr. Copping also announced that Calgary’s Foothills Hospital, which is expected to open in 2025, will be adding 11 operating rooms, in addition to new or expanded operating rooms at hospitals in Edmonton, Edson, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Rocky Mountain. Home.

David Shepherd, the opposition NDP’s health critic, called it a “privatization scheme” in a statement on Monday, arguing that the government should instead focus on building capacity in the public system. .

“Private corporations exist to make a profit, and every health care dollar that goes into the corporate profit margin is a dollar taken from the public system. Sooner or later, those dollars will come out of patients’ pockets,” the statement said.

The Alberta government said residents have been offered publicly funded procedures through leased surgical facilities since the 1990s. In a statement Tuesday, the province said that approximately 20 percent of surgeries in the 2021-22 fiscal year were performed in private clinics.

The statement said AHS issued two bids for surgical facilities leased to perform surgeries in central and southern Alberta, ranging from hip and knee surgeries to general surgeries. These clinics must be accredited by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.

Last February, then Prime Minister Jason Kenney said that the goal was to double the share of private operations from 15 percent to 30 percent. In the 2019 election, he backed a promise to reduce the surgical backlog. Mr. Kenney also promised at the time that every Albertan would receive planned surgeries within a clinically reasonable time — a goal Mr. Copping said Tuesday the government plans to meet over the next 12 to 18 months. .

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