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Alberta increases access to cataract surgeries outside hospitals

More surgeries to be performed at chartered facilities in Edmonton and Calgary
FILE - Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping at a COVID-19 update in Edmonton, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Twenty-five per cent more cataract and other eye surgeries will be performed in chartered surgical facilities in Edmonton and Calgary to drive down surgery wait times, says the province.

About 35,000 cataract and other eye procedures will be done this coming year under new contracts with Alberta Health Services.

Health Minister Jason Copping said surgery provided at these facilities is publicly funded just like at a hospital.

“You don’t have to get out your credit card to pay for it, and you get the same service you’d get in a hospital, from the same surgeons according to the same clinical standards. But you get the care in a setting that specializes in it and doesn’t have to meet all the other demands that a hospital does. So it’s more convenient, more efficient and the cost is lower,” Copping said at a press conference on Friday.

“We need to increase the capacity for surgery. Our wait times are far too long. This is about investing in both our chartered facilities and our public health facilities.”


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But Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare, said Albertans have never been provided any evidence to suggest that contracting out surgeries is less expensive, or more importantly, better for patients.

“Instead, we’ve repeatedly seen that private contracts compromise transparency and accountability to the public, and result in secretive and unpredictable health care costs, and potentially poorer and less equitable care,” Gallaway said in a statement.

Friends of Medicare says the cost to perform cataract surgeries in the private sector compared to the public have not been shared with Albertans, but a similar initiative in Ontario showed contracted cataract surgeries cost at least 25 percent more per operation.

“If (government) were really interested in lowering surgical wait times, they would be working to invest in strengthening and rebuilding our public health care system in the interest of all Albertans. Instead, they seem intent to undermine it at every turn. This is nothing more than yet another excuse to use our public dollars to facilitate private profits,” Gallaway said.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said ramping up privatization of eye surgeries is just one part of the UCP’s overall flawed plan to force more private profit into public healthcare - an approach that’s failed in provinces across the country.

“The UCP need only look next door to Saskatchewan to see how this strategy failed to sustainably reduce wait times. In fact, wait times are now longer in Saskatchewan than when the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative began. The Saskatchewan government poured public dollars into a scheme that has made some people very rich, but has ultimately failed patients and families,” said Shepherd in a statement.

“Public dollars should be directed to public healthcare, not private profits. The UCP must halt their plan to privatize care and let Albertans decide on the future direction of healthcare at the ballot box.”


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The province says Alberta is a leader in Canada in partnering with chartered surgical facilities which have offered publicly funded surgeries to Albertans since the 1990s. They currently deliver about 17 per cent of surgeries.

Chartered facilities performed about 45,500 procedures from April 2020 to March 2021, which is 11 per cent more than before the pandemic.

On Friday the province also announced Ronan Segrave was Alberta’s new independent surgical recovery lead with Alberta Health.

Segrave is working to first reduce the surgical backlog created by the pandemic, and will then continue work on the Alberta Surgical Initiative to reduce surgery delays so they are performed within clinically recommended wait times.

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