Today the Government of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) announced aggressive actions to eliminate the COVID-related surgical backlog and achieve a three-month wait time by 2030.  Short-term and longer term targets have also been set to expand intensive care capacity. 


 “Delays in surgeries and medical procedures have taken a heavy toll on quality of life for thousands of Saskatchewan patients,” Premier Scott Moe said. “While urgent life-saving surgeries were continuing to be performed through the pandemic, since March 2020 we know there were a large volume of surgeries that were delayed due to COVID related surgical slowdowns.” 


Restoring Surgical Services and Eliminating Backlog


Aggressive targets were established in early November for returning redeployed Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) health care staff to their home positions. The service resumption plan factored in restored surgical service levels across the province, as well as, the organ and tissue donor program. 


In order to eliminate the backlog that built up during COVID-19, a target has been set to perform an additional 7,000 surgeries in 2022-23 over pre-pandemic levels. Volume targets will grow by an additional 6,000 in 2023-24 and 5,000 in 2024-25.


There will be an emphasis on surgical procedures with higher numbers of long-waiting patients, including hip and knee replacements, ear/nose/throat, dental and general surgeries.   


The plan will include new measures to increase capacity in SHA hospitals and in publicly funded private surgical clinics.  Some of the actions to address the surgical backlog in SHA facilities include expanding and optimizing operating room hours and making greater use of regional surgical sites. Building on existing contracts with private surgical providers, additional surgeries and more types of surgeries will be performed through third-party contracts.


A Request for Information (RFI) will be issued today to test the market for additional third party surgical providers for day procedures, overnight inpatient surgeries, and post-operative care including therapies and home care.  These services would be publicly funded.

By expanding third-party community-based service, additional capacity will be available for the SHA to perform more complex procedures. 


Expanding ICU Capacity


ICU capacity has been a major concern throughout the pandemic. Plans to expand ICU capacity include both short- and long-term actions.


Permanent ICU beds will be expanded from 79 to 90 by June 2022 as the first step to achieving 110 ICU beds in the province and better prepare for surges in ICU demand and ensure access to services. The SHA and ministry are developing a long-term plan to achieve this target and ensure we have the right mix of critical care services across the province.


To accomplish this target, the SHA will recruit additional nurses and other members of the care team to ensure adequate human resources. The Saskatchewan Polytechnical Institute (SKPoly) increased specialized critical care training seats in 2021-22 to 144 to help address both short- and long-term need.


The SHA is also adding 10 high-acuity beds in Regina to ease pressure on ICUs and assist with patient transition between levels of care; these beds are planned to open in Spring 2022.  With COVID-19, we are seeing an increase in the number of patients who require long-term ventilation, therefore the SHA and ministry are working collaboratively to develop a program to care for long-term ventilated patients outside of critical care settings


The aggressive targets and timelines require necessary health professionals to provide the services. Government is working with partners to advance strategies to increase the number of health care workers in Saskatchewan to meet the needs for health services for our residents.

“The dedication, commitment and compassion of our health professionals these last 20 months is exceptional and our government has the most profound gratitude for their service,” Moe said. “We hope these strategies for building our recovery will provide a vision of the future and a welcome break from the pandemic fatigue we are all feeling and allow us to look forward with hope and optimism for our vital health services.”