Saskatchewan's auditor says the province is facing a shortage of health-care workers over the next five years that could lead to more hospital closures and emergency room shutdowns.

The Saskatchewan Party government's current plan to recruit workers isn't adequate for the 2,000 spots that need to be filled by 2027, Tara Clemett said in her report tabled in the legislature Tuesday. 

It focused on hard-to-recruit positions that have chronic vacancies including registered nurses, psychologists and other front-line workers. 

"We have emergency rooms, we have lab services that are not available to the people of Saskatchewan because they don't have staff to work to deliver those services," Clemett said. "There is urgency to this."

Her office said the health authority needs to address the gaps in its workforce that are seeing people leave their positions faster than its hiring rate. 

"They're not figuring out why people aren't staying," Clemett said, adding that the authority needs to conduct exit interviews to determine what it can do to keep employees in the province, especially in rural areas. 

She said improving child care, housing and employment options for spouses could entice people to live outside of urban centres. 

"The focus can't just be about getting new people into Saskatchewan. It's about retaining the current workforce that the authority has as well."

In September, the Ministry of Health introduced a plan to hire 1,000 more health-care workers over the next two years, but the auditor's report projects it will leave more than 1,200 positions vacant three years after that. 

Part of the government's plan also includes hiring 150 nurses from the Philippines, but Clemett said 200 registered nursing positions will remain vacant for next year. 

"They're going to have to do more than the status quo."

Clemett said the government needs to create a First Nations and Métis recruitment plan. She also recommends the government assess whether paying for post-secondary training seats out of province works for Saskatchewan.

"The government is paying (for student) training out of the province, but they don't actually know if those people are coming back to Saskatchewan," she said. 

Health Minister Paul Merriman said he accepts the auditor's recommendations and will use them to build on the government's existing plan. 

He said 130 new doctors and 129 registered nurses have been hired since September.

"That's significant steps in just the 90 days since we've announced our plan," Merriman said Tuesday. 

Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck said the auditor's report doesn't come as a surprise, especially to those who work in health care or live in rural communities. 

"The insufficiency of this plan — that the government keeps holding up as the Holy Grail to health care — it's inadequate and it's not working," Beck said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.