Alberta to move some orthopedic surgeries to private facilities to reduce surgical backlog

EDMONTON — The province isturning to private clinics for orthopedic surgeries in order to cut down wait times and it’s using public money to do so.

Currently, all publicly funded orthopedic surgeries take place in Alberta Health Services (AHS) facilities.

The province says moving some surgeries to chartered surgical facilities (CSF) would help increase surgical capacity while maintaining high quality care, without additional costs to patients.

“We know timely access to surgeries is important to Albertans and significantly impacts their quality of life,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro in a statement.

“Many orthopedic surgeries have long waitlists, with many Albertans waiting longer than experts determine is clinically appropriate. CSFs are one way to add capacity for publicly funded surgeries and are also a part of our surgical recovery planning.”

The provincial government will be soliciting requests for proposals from facilities in the Edmonton and Calgary health zones. The final cost per procedure will be determined through contract negotiations.

Total spending toward performing orthopedic surgeries in CSF for 2021-22 is approximately $13 million, the province said in a statement.

AHS facilities will focus on emergency and complex surgeries, the province said, while CSF will perform low-risk surgeries.

According to the Alberta Health, surgical wait times have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, with the total backlog estimated at approximately 40,000.

Any facilities chosen to perform surgeries will need to abide by AHS practices and policies.

According to the province, increasing orthopedic procedures performed in CSF is part of the Alberta Surgical Initiative that’s goal is to ensure Albertans receive scheduled surgeries within clinically appropriate targets.

Similar requests for proposals were released for ophthalmology surgeries in April.

As of July 2021, the province said there are about 10,000 patients waiting for knee surgeries – 45 per cent of whom are outside clinically appropriate wait times. The number of patients waiting for hip surgeries is 3,500.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) said the move puts more money into the pockets of private health-care providers and reduces the public health-care system “to a skeleton.”

“Health Minister Shandro isn’t just burning public money,” said Kevin Barry, AUPE chair of the anti-privatization committee, in a statement. “He’s also selling Albertans false hope because there is zero proof that private surgical providers actually reduce wait times.

“Corporate care is like a blackhole – it sucks up public funds, and we don’t really see where all the money goes,” Barry added.

“All we know is that working people don’t see the return because behind the scenes, shareholders are devising ways to turn Albertans’ aches and pains into profit.”

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