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Saskatchewan to send breast cancer screening patients to private company in Calgary

REGINA — The Saskatchewan government says it’s going to send breast cancer patients to Calgary for screening as the province continues to deal with medical imaging backlogs.

Health Minister Everett Hindley said Wednesday a private company will offer 1,000 of the scans, and the province will contact patients who are eligible to be sent there.

“Current essential diagnostic testing wait times are unacceptable for Saskatchewan residents and immediate action must be taken,” Hindley said in a news release.

The announcement comes as patients raise concerns about the long waits to receive medical imaging in the province.

Health-care staff are also ringing alarms about the state of the system. 

Before the announcement, a group of health-care technologists employed at one of Regina’s hospitals warned short staffing could result in patients waiting longer for imaging. 

Bashir Jalloh, president of a local CUPE union representing the workers, told reporters that by January only two CT technologists will be working at the Pasqua Hospital in Regina. 

“All of it is terrible,” Jalloh said of the situation.

Christy Labreche, a nuclear medicine technologist at the hospital, said her department is short staffed because employees are choosing to leave the province.

Labreche, who stood with six other technologists, said the province needs to increase their pay and improve working conditions to ensure people stay. 

“There’s a national shortage of technologists, so now these technologists can go and work anywhere across Canada, so why wouldn’t they leave Saskatchewan?” she asked.

Jalloh said Saskatchewan pays technologists $39 per hour, about $7 per hour less than what’s paid to those in Alberta and Manitoba.

The Opposition NDP invited the employees to share their concerns, saying the Saskatchewan Party government needs to sit down with workers and develop a plan.

Matt Love, the rural health critic, said the province should consider paying staff more and look at ways to improve working conditions. 

“We need to have a situation where health-care workers want to work in Saskatchewan and feel respected,” he said. 

During question period, Love said the province’s plan to send patients to Calgary is “a sign of their failure.”

Earlier this year, the province had said it’s going to spend $6 million to send patients to a private operator in Calgary for some hip and knee surgeries.

The government has said it aims to hire more than 1,000 staff to fill staffing vacancies. Hindley said the province has hired 600 nurses over the past year. 

Last year, Saskatchewan’s auditor said it anticipates the province will be  short more than 2,000 in hard-to-recruit positions over the next five years.

The province’s health-care system has for years been dealing with short staffing and a lack of space for people needing long-term care. 

It has resulted in overcapacity hospitals and employees being overworked.

Earlier this week, nurses rallied outside a Saskatoon hospital calling for better working conditions. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2023.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press

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