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Diagnostic imaging

Saskatchewan gives green light to private CT scans

REGINA – In a bid to reduce wait times for CT scans, the Saskatchewan government is going to allow a private sector company to conduct publicly funded scans in the Regina area.

Health Minister Don McMorris said earlier this month that the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region has put out a request for proposals seeking a “third-party supplier” that could offer CT services starting next year.

Three scanners are already operating at maximum capacity, seven days a week, at two Regina hospitals. Together, they are doing 75,000 scans a year but there are still 1,100 people on the waiting list.

CT scan wait times in Regina Qu’Appelle range from up to a month for urgent cases to a year for lower-priority matters, said Trent Truscott, executive director of surgery for the health region. A fourth scanner is expected to increase the annual capacity of the system by 10,000 scans.

“We feel this is an opportunity to use a third-party deliverer to expand the capacity in this area,” said Health Minister McMorris.

“But it’s very important to understand, too, very important, that this is still within the publicly funded, publicly administered system. There is no queue jumping. The scheduling will all be run through the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region. The only difference would be the deliverer.”

NDP health critic Judy Junor said the government is turning to the private sector when progress on wait times could be made by properly funding the public system.

“It’s just another step along that philosophical road that the Saskatchewan Party is on. They’re going to privatize health services and they’re doing it piece by piece,” Junor said of the request for proposals.

“They’re basically telling people that we have to do this. The public system is overtaxed, overextended, that it can’t handle it. That’s the part that really annoys me, is that the public is being manipulated by the Sask. Party to think that this is the only way to go.”

But McMorris said using a third party to deliver CT scans is no different than having third parties deliver X-rays within the publicly funded system and contended a lack of physical space makes it difficult to add another scanner to the Pasqua or General hospitals.

The government said privately delivered CT scans will have to cost the same or less than the services delivered in the public system. McMorris said he expects several groups, possibly including some First Nations, will be interested in submitting a proposal.

McMorris said it’s possible the province could issue a request for proposals seeking a third party to help with MRI services in the future if needed, but the current problem area is CT scans in the Regina area.

The government first signalled its willingness to pursue arrangements with third parties to deliver diagnostic imaging when it unveiled a plan in March to cut wait times for surgery to no longer than three months by 2014.

As part of that plan, the government is negotiating with two existing private clinics in Saskatoon and Regina to see if they could provide some out-patient surgery within the public system.

Posted June 17, 2010