The Saskatchewan NDP Healthcare Solutions tour kicked off last week from the Legislature. NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat and Rural and Remote Health Critic Matt Love continue to crisscross the province, speaking to concerned individuals and groups on what are perceived to be shortcomings and growing gaps in the province’s health care services. Mowat and Love trekked to Watrous, and then to Lanigan and Humboldt on February 7 for the latest meetings on the road. 

Regionally, hospitals and health care centres have experienced rotating service interruptions in emergency departments, labs, x-ray facilities and other departments. Wadena and Wynyard Health Centres are the latest. The concern is echoed throughout the province.

“We’re hearing a lot of frustrations that go back quite a way,” says Matt Love. “Folks are feeling like they’ve got a government that isn’t listening, both to their frustrations and to the solutions that are proposed. I think it comes out of this unfortunate, long history of the Sask Party not consulting with local communities and with leaders who know exactly what is happening in their healthcare centres.”

Love says that’s what this tour is all about - about listening and consultation with communities and healthcare providers on the front lines. Those consultations confirm much of what’s already known, that understaffing, caused by a shortfall of professional personnel, is at the heart of much of the dilemma. One of those key deficits is in a lack of physicians, putting strain on patient care, particularly in rural areas. Humboldt and Watrous are no exceptions. 

“There is definitely a lack of family doctors and primary care providers in the province,” Vicki Mowat acknowledges. “This has been an issue that we have been tackling and consulting on for quite some time. People simply can’t find a family physician. In Watrous today, we’re hearing from some community members that it’s a four to six month wait to see a family physician. Who knows four to six months in advance that they’re going to be ill? It’s not the access to healthcare we expect in the birthplace of medicare.”

The solution in part is bringing family doctors to the table, says Mowat, but it’s also about re-examining what the health care team looks like. Bringing on more nurse practitioners may be an option, but that too is dependent on staff availability. It also requires another look at the funding model. Mowat relays that doctors are not satisfied with the current funding structure, and that’s limiting the province’s ability to attract and retain family physicians. She says provinces like BC have made efforts to address the funding model for physicians to provide a better and more attractive quality of life for health care providers. 

Recently, the Moe government announced its own set of consultations, and while the NDP is happy to see that action taken, Mowat is convinced that it is the current Healthcare Solutions Tour that provided the impetus for the government’s own study. 

“Unfortunately, we have these one-off announcements that aren’t going to have a systemic impact,” Mowat observes. She says for far too long, communities have been left on their own to find new staff and new solutions. 

Matt Love says the north provides its own unique challenges and perspectives on healthcare in the current climate. 

“We’ve been hearing for a long time about the challenges in recruiting and retaining healthcare workers, whether it's continuing care aids, nurses, nurse practitioners. There are additional struggles recruiting them to northern and rural areas.”

The challenges go beyond systemic healthcare issues. Availability of housing, cost of living, access to ongoing professional development are all bundled in the barriers to recruitment and retention. It’s a gathering of circumstances that’s going to require varied solutions tailored to each community, says Love. 

While Premier Moe ponders the latest offer from the Federal government on healthcare funding through transfer payments, Mowat says the messaging needs to continue that Ottawa has to live up to its responsibilities for providing adequate and sensible support. 

“We undoubtedly need more Federal funding into our healthcare system. I think the premiers have been quite united on this. We know that the cost of delivering healthcare is becoming more expensive. We are 100 percent supporting the idea of asking the Federal government for more. We need to also make sure that there’s some flexibility in what those payments look like because what we need in Saskatchewan is going to be different from what they need in BC.” 

Mowat concludes that it’s not just about getting the money, but it’s also about scrutinizing and reflecting on the spending to ensure the people of the province are getting the best care possible. 

Matt Love says there’s a need for more local voices to be at the table, and that’s the reason for the tour. The duo talked with individual citizens and representatives from the Humboldt and District Hospital Foundation while in Humboldt. The tour continues across the province. 

Listen to the full interview with the NDP’s Vicki Mowat and Matt Love.