Government announces plan to address medical lab tech shortages

Herald File Photo

In a release on Tuesday the Ministry of Advanced Education, in partnership with Saskatchewan Polytechnic, is taking steps to address a labour market shortage of Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technologists (CLXTs) in the province.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic will double the number of seats in the CLXT program by admitting another 20 students in early 2021. This is part of a larger government strategy to employ more technologists across the province and improve rural health care delivery.

“Ensuring we have the increased training capacity to meet labour market needs is a Growth Plan priority for our government,” Advanced Education Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor said.

“Graduates of the Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technologists program are in high demand in rural hospitals and health centres where they play an integral role on health care teams.”

“Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technologists provide key medical diagnostic services including medical laboratory and x-ray procedures, and are an integral part of a health care team,” Rural and Remote Health Minister and Minister Responsible for Seniors Warren Kaeding said.

“They are especially important in the rural areas where they can use their full scope of skills in providing x-ray and laboratory services.”

“Saskatchewan Polytechnic is proud to be one of only two centres in Canada where students can complete the Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technologists diploma program,” Saskatchewan Polytechnic President and CEO Dr. Larry Rosia said.

“We look forward to doubling the number of seats we can offer starting in January 2021 and meeting this health care need.”

The Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technology program is a two-year diploma program offered at the Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Saskatoon Campus on Idylwyld Drive. Students complete their clinical practicum placement at approved sites across the province. Find more information on the Saskatchewan Polytechnic website.

The announcement comes a day after NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat was critical of the government’s failure to address long-standing staffing issues that could delay expanded COVID-19 testing as schools reopen in a press availability on Monday.

Mowat called on the government to ensure capacity is in place to meet an expected surge in demand, and to begin random testing in places vulnerable to outbreak, such as schools, long-term care homes and homeless shelters.

Mowat raised concerns about ongoing staffing shortages that have been ongoing in recent years and could allegedly delay COVID-19 testing results as demand surges.

“We are calling on the government to ensure that capacity is in place to meet this expected surge in demand to make sure that we decrease the amount of time between testing and getting those results .To be able to get a handle on any outbreaks as they occur as quickly as possible,” Mowat said.

She also called on the government to ensure proactive random testing takes place in schools, long-term care facilities and shelters.

“We want to ensure that in a time that we know that a third of the cases are being traced to individuals that are in fact being spread in communities. We want to ensure we get a handle on those outbreaks as quickly as possible,” Mowat said.

Mowat pointed to a Saskatchewan Society of Medical Laboratory Technologists 2019 report showing that the number of lab techs in the province has been falling since 2014, impacting rural health care in particular. Mowat said that they were concerned with testing being below half of the stated capacity at this time.

“We know that demand is going to increase and the government has had now six months in this pandemic and they are still struggling, they are still lagging behind the rest of Canada with their per capita testing results at a time where unions are sounding the alarm about the availability of lab tests and the shortages that exist. At a time where the government is refusing to fairly bargain with lab techs,” she explained.

A shortage of Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technicians (CLXT) in the province has frequently led to Emergency Room closures in rural areas.

“With combined lab and X-Ray technologists where we have seen rural shortages and have led to emergency room closures over the years. We are calling on the government to end the austerity approaches, to put people first and to make sure that these staffing issues are addressed so that we can meet the capacity for the expected surge in demand that comes with back to school,” she said.

With testing, she emphasized that there is more likely to be asymptomatic transmissions where people are vulnerable

“When you talk about locations like schools where we know that there is a higher likelihood children are going to be engaged in asymptomatic spreading of the virus. It is just a way to be able to identify that outbreak to minimize the spread to the community from those more communal settings risk for spreading COVID,” she said.

The NDP does not want SHA officials on site. Instead they want to see organized testing at different locations for asymptomatic individuals.

“It’s a way for having our capacity used as well and still being able to minimize outbreaks of the virus. In particular we look at the lag time between testing and getting results. One of the concerns is that there could be outbreaks happening at schools and won’t get notified about for a long period of time,” Mowat said.