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Province’s physicians looking for opportunities with new investments in health care

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) is pleased that Tuesday’s provincial budget provides modest increases in spending on health care, though there remains the reality that meaningful improvement will require more substantive investments.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer announced Tuesday the government will increase spending in the health portfolio by 2.9 per cent for 2018-2019, for a total of $5.36 billion for core health services and infrastructure.

Included in the new spending is a universal newborn hearing screening program, a universal drug coverage for HIV medications and more spending in the area of mental health services. The Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan has lobbied the government for universal coverage of antiretroviral therapy for all HIV-positive patients and for increased spending on mental health, and the SMA advocated for an early detection screening program for hearing last year. 

Voices heard

“It is affirming to feel that our voices have been heard with the new investments announced in Tuesday’s provincial budget,” said SMA president Dr. Joanne Sivertson. “As physicians, we are keen to understand the details associated with the new health expenditures and what opportunities exist to collaborate with the province in order to maximize the value of these investments for our patients.

“We appreciate the current fiscal climate, and therefore the small increase in this year’s budget is better than a cut.  Unfortunately, it will become increasingly difficult to make up the lost ground in per capita health care spending that the province has experienced over the past six years.”

For example, deliberate and more substantive investments will be needed in future budgets to see significant improvements in access to mental health and community based services.

Investments needed

Dr. Sivertson noted that the move to a single health authority brings some cost savings, but from a patient perspective, care will only be fundamentally improved with truly transformative changes within the system. Investments are needed to support meaningful, team-based approaches with integrated data information systems, and that will require new dollars.

“We know that when professionals have access to accurate and timely patient data, the quality of care increases, while the costs go down,” she said. “It makes it easier for physicians and all health-care professionals to do the right thing.  Fewer efforts are duplicated, communication improves, and fewer resources are wasted.  All members of the health-care team can align their efforts to provide optimum care. Sooner rather than later, we will need to see fiscal policies that foster these changes.”

In the interim, Dr. Sivertson states that the SMA looks forward to being at the table with government and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to optimize use of health-care funds.

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