Saskatchewan’s surgical system is striving to achieve aggressive targets and is making progress in ramping up volumes and providing surgeries to patients who need them most.

During the first five months of 2022, the health system delivered 5,000 more surgeries than during the preceding five months in 2021 when services had been slowed down. In addition, during the first five months of 2022, there was a 2,500 increase in the number of surgeries performed on patients who had already waited over six months.

As surgical services continue to ramp up, there are efforts to focus resources on those waiting longest, and also catch up on procedures most affected by service slowdowns such as hip and knee replacements, back surgeries, and ear/nose/throat procedures. New strategies are being considered to increase hip and knee replacements.

“This progress is a result of the hard work and dedication shown by our provincial surgical teams to serve patients and increase surgical volumes,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said. “Their efforts have made a positive impact on quality of life for many Saskatchewan people and their families.”

The province set a target to perform 7,000 more surgeries in 2022-23 than the highest-ever level, to reduce the surgical backlog. To meet these targets, work is ongoing to increase capacity in Regina and Saskatoon, along with regional and some smaller surgical centres that provide or support joint replacements. Saskatchewan hospitals have performed 240 more joint replacements during the first five months of 2022 compared with the same period in 2019, the last year without pandemic service disruptions.

The SHA is also exploring expansion with private sector partners. A Request for Proposals (RFP) will be issued to build a stand-alone orthopedic surgery facility in Saskatchewan focused on increasing operating room and bed capacity for in-patient joint replacements, as well as a variety of day surgery procedures. The RFP will be issued in August in follow-up to a Request for Information that was issued earlier in the year.

To further accommodate patients, the Government of Saskatchewan is exploring a temporary, out-of-province surgical initiative for hip and knee replacements. A private surgical facility outside Saskatchewan would be contracted by the Saskatchewan Health Authority to perform publicly funded orthopedic surgeries. This option would be offered to patients on a fully voluntary basis, who have waited the longest for their joint replacement procedures while work is ongoing to accelerate expansion plans in public and private facilities.

Patients waiting for orthopedic procedures make up one-third of those waiting longer than 12 months on the current surgical waitlist.

“The increase in surgeries shows important progress, but we know there is more work that needs to be done,” Merriman said. “At this time, we are continuing to maximize surgical capacity in the province and need to consider other bold steps to reach our goals. We are considering all options while we move forward on a number of initiatives, such as facility upgrades and expansions across the province and comprehensive human resource plans to increase surgical capacity through additional hiring.”