NDP focus on health care, doctor retention during terse question period

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. NDP leader Carla Beck stands beside finance critic Trent Wotherspoon to give a response to the government's announcement of the 2024-2025 provincial budget at the Saskatchewan Legislature.

The Opposition spoke on the number of doctors and specialists leaving Saskatchewan as one in six people are without a family physician.

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

During Monday’s question period, NDP Leader Carla Beck honed in on health care concerns faced by people in Saskatchewan.

Beck started her question with mention of the Health Human Resources Action Plan often described by Premier Scott Moe as the “most ambitious” one in all of Canada. Her reference to that program elicited a round of applause from the government side.

“They’re so predictable; I even wrote the line in ‘as they’re clapping for themselves,’” Beck said. “Maybe they want to know that the numbers simply don’t bear that out.”

There is an issue around retaining medical graduates in Saskatchewan, the Opposition leader added, noting that just 14 per cent of new pediatric specialists stayed in the province last year, while 17 per cent of new general surgeons stayed.

Moe said the current budget ups funding for health care by 10.2 per cent and already the plan is showing results.

“Over 1,000 Canadian nursing grads (have been) hired into our health care system,” he said, adding there are 170 Filipino nursing grads working in the province now, with 230 more “on their way.”

Looking at budget estimates, the government anticipates spending for health at $7,591,521,000 for 2024-25, a 10-per-cent increase from $6,865,952,000, which was the estimate for 2023-24. At the same time, the forecast budget for health in 2023-24 is $7,316,052,000 according to budget estimates, putting the increase between the forecast and the 2024-25 estimate at just 3.7 per cent.

Continuing the back-and-forth, Beck said Saskatchewan residents “have the longest waits for knee and hip surgery in the entire country,” while Moe said the government would not have “any type of ideology when it comes to lowering our surgical wait times.”

At this point, NDP critic for rural and remote health Jared Clarke chimed in and said 14 fewer family doctors are practising in Saskatchewan compared to six years ago.

Moe said that figure only represents “fee-for-service” physicians, not “all of the salary-paid positions across this province,” and accused the NDP of “torquing” the numbers.

Clarke’s rebuttal was to bring up the approximately 200,000 people in Saskatchewan that don’t have access to a family doctor. Rural doctors have also seen a decline, said Clarke. Moe responded by bringing up hospital closures under past NDP governments.

“The premier remembers he’s been in government for 17 years, right?” asked Clarke.

In 2022, Clarke said Saskatchewan lost 69 doctors to other provinces and “only brought in 34.”

Minister of Health Everett Hindley said the province has brought in over 1,000 doctors since 2007, adding the new contract with the Saskatchewan Medical Association will go a long way toward retaining and attracting doctors.

“Overall our numbers continue to increase by the metrics that we track them with,” Hindley said after question period. “Knowing of that, we still have vacancies to fill.”