The Saskatchewan government has announced it’s moving to consolidate the province’s 12 health regions into one provincial health authority.
Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter announced on Wednesday the province plans to consolidate the existing 12 Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) into a single Provincial Health Authority.
“One Provincial Health Authority that is focused on better co-ordination of health services across the province will improve the quality of care patients receive,” Reiter said.
“It will also reduce administration and duplication across the health system.”
The recommendation comes from a three person advisory panel appointed by former health minister Dustin Duncan to lead a review aimed at reducing the number of RHAs.
Further recommendations put forward by the panel include appointing a single board of directors for the new authority and the consolidation of administrative support functions and clinical services.
For example, advisory panel member Dr. Dennis Kendel said this type of consolidation could mean more efficient service delivery for patients needing for travel from one region to another for diagnostic imaging.
“They drive back in to have the diagnostic tests, imaging tests done in a few days. They sometimes have to drive all the way back to get the results of those tests, which is inappropriate,” Kendel explained.
“That could be communicated to them without having them drive.”
A similar back-end centralization is also planned for emergency medical services (EMS).
“What we would like to see is centralized dispatch, that wherever you are in the province and there’s a need, there’s the most logical dispatch for the nearest appropriate transport for where you need to go,” Kendel said.
The Health Ministry is already working on a plan for implementing the new authority, though plenty of work still needs to be done. This includes how union contracts will be transitioned to the new system and how community advisory networks will work with the Provincial Health Authority.
NDP health critic Danielle Chartier is wary of the plan, and said that this opens the door to further cuts in healthcare.
“When you have fewer administrators, that territorialism that happens when you have when you have more health regions, you have people fighting for that region. You lose that local voice, and it’s much easier to make those cuts,” she argued.
Reiter said that some people will lose their jobs, but it will primarily be administrative positions.
“There’s IT people, there’s comms people, there’s a number of people that when it comes under one entity, you’re not going to need them all,” he explained.
“But we don’t have the number yet. That’s the work the transition team will do.”
Reiter added that severance packages will reduce any potential savings in the first year of the new health authority, but estimates $10-$20 million in saving by the 2018/19 fiscal year.
There is no set date for when the new Provincial Health Authority will take over, but the government anticipates the switch will happen this fall.
“We want to do this quickly, but it’s important we do this right,” Reiter said.
“The priority will be planning for a smooth transition to ensure that patients are always the focus.”