Premier says it takes time to fix health-care system

Originally published in Winnipeg Free Press

Some of the progress Manitoba was making on cutting wait times for hip and knee surgery has been lost under the current government, NDP Leader Wab Kinew says.

The Opposition leader took aim at the Tory government over the latest wait-times report, released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The data show the percentage of people needing hip replacements who get surgery within the recommended six-month time frame rose to 71 per cent in 2014 from 68 per cent in 2013, before dropping steadily to 53 per cent in 2017.

The data for knee replacements over the same time period tells a similar story: rising to 71 per cent from 58 per cent, before declining to 43 per cent in 2017.

“Some of the trend lines moving in positive directions in 2015 are now beginning to digress,” Kinew said during question period. “Manitoba is, in fact, not the most-improved province — and that’s a shame, because it’s patients who are suffering.”

Kinew said this is the first independent evaluation of the dramatic overhaul of the province’s health-care system and “it’s not a good sign.”

“It seems as though the cuts that we’ve learned about since are just going to compound the problem,” he later told reporters, “closing the Misericordia (Health Centre) urgent care centre, cutting outpatient physiotherapy.”

Change takes time, Premier Brian Pallister said during question period.

“It takes seven miles to turn a freighter that’s going full speed in the ocean,” he said. “It’s going to take a little while to turn the direction of a health-care system that was being ignored, frankly victimized by under-innovation, by the previous (NDP) government.”

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen noted the CIHI data accounts only for April 1 through Sept. 30, 2017.

The province’s wait-times-reduction task force has reported in with recommendations that took those months into account. The recommendations are now being evaluated by Shared Health, the minister said, and he expects them in “relatively short order.”

“I’d like to see it quicker than I’m seeing it,” said Goertzen, who would not provide an exact time frame, “but I also want it to be properly done and thorough.”

Part of the considerations will include options for a possible increase in the number of cataract surgeries performed in Manitoba. The number of patients meeting the 16-week target for cataract surgery was at 62 per cent in 2013 and has since dropped to 32 per cent in 2017 — the lowest of all the provinces.

“If we’re going to be moving to more procedures, I certainly would be interested in looking at an RFP (request for proposal) to look at how the system could respond in terms of getting the best value for money,” Goertzen said, noting a better price would allow for more operations.

“That doesn’t mean the system itself couldn’t, of course, bid on them.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the provincial government needs to stop promising one thing and then delivering another. Floating the idea of privatizing some of those services, he said, is “an argument that there isn’t enough money in the system.”

The Tory government underspent its budget projections for health care in 2017 by $138 million.

jane.gerster@freepress.mb.ca