Although the NDP raised concerns in the legislature about the policies surrounding the Urgent Issues Action Fund, the SaskParty said it is not the only funding health regions receive.
Health Minister Dustin Duncan
The $10 million fund was created to help regions with expenses in the middle of the fiscal year, said Health Minister Dustin Duncan on Tuesday.
“When we received all the proposals from the health regions --and at the time they knew it was a $10 million fund -- when we totalled up the dollar amount it exceeded $10 million and so we wanted to ensure that each health region received roughly the proportion of the fund that they would have in terms of the proportion they would have in terms of the portion of long-term care beds that they would have in the system,” Duncan said.
For example, that a health region that has 10 per cent of the long-term care beds in the province would receive 10 per cent of the fund, he explained.
“In order to make that happen, we then went back to the regions and said we have your proposals, it exceeded the amount we have available for you in the fund,” Duncan said. Rather than the government make the decision about what projects they would fund and which they wouldn’t, they asked the health regions to instead “reprioritize their lists” based on “the amount of money” the government set aside for them.
Since the health regions already knew this was a set amount of funding, the government asked them to scale back their proposals.
“It seemed more appropriate rather than us arbitrarily saying, ‘You are going to get this but not going to get this,’” Duncan said.
Duncan said when the announcement about the fund was made in the fall, the government said they would commit the $10 million as well as close to $4 million of ongoing funding mainly regarding staff and staff training.
“That was the initial commitment and then what we said we would do is have the health regions report back at 60 days, 90 days and 120 days after receiving the money so we can do an evaluation to first of all, make sure the $10 million actually got to the front lines and had a positive impact on residents and the quality of care we can provide and to staff,” Duncan said.
“We would then take that information and then make a determination at some point to whether or not we need to revisit something like the fund, whether or not there are still outstanding issues we would need to dedicate some dollars to.”
Duncan is unsure if the fund will be available next year.
“We want to see how this first round of the fund goes and then make a decision after we have some time to evaluate whether or not the money has had a positive impact,” he said.
If it available next year, health regions could use it for some of the items in their proposal this year, but there are other options, Duncan said.
“We do make investments into the health regions several different ways,” Duncan said. “One is like the Urgent Issue Action Fund, which is essentially $10 million in the middle of the fiscal year that health regions never had access to. That is going to result in additional people being hired into the system (and) over 700 pieces of equipment that weren’t in the system even a couple months ago will now be available for long-term care facilities.
“Through the budget process, health regions have seen significant increases over the last six years, averaging as a whole nearly a 50 per cent increase in the regional health authority budget in just six years,” he added. “It is well above even the rate of inflation over those six years. The health regions do have the discretion to use their annual budgets to make some of these investments, which they have in the past and I think will continue in the future.”
Duncan said the $40 million they are investing into LEAN methodology has already shown a benefit.
“LEAN is really about eliminating wait, eliminating waste and improving quality in the services we are able to provide,” Duncan said. “In some cases it does have a benefit to the system in terms of the efficiencies, but more importantly the work we have been doing in LEAN, we have been seeing a positive impact on the patient care that we can provide and safety we can provide, both to patients, resident, as well as to our staff. “
The $40 million will be spent over a four-year period, he said. It has already had an impact on the blood and plasma system.
“Because we have already made changes, we have already saved a running total of $35 million,” Duncan said. “What that means is we are not discarding red blood products or plasma products as much as we used to because red blood has a shelf life and if it is not used, it has to be discarded.
“It means people in Saskatchewan who do donate red blood products and plasma can feel more confident that the products they are donating are getting to patients,” he added.
The money can then be invested into other areas of the health system, Duncan said.
“That has resulted in a savings of $35 million that we can redirect into front line care, into hiring more staff, into building new facilities and renovating facilities,” Duncan said. “Every government and every health system talks about becoming more efficient and our work in LEAN has actually demonstrated that it is getting results for Saskatchewan and has really become recognized as one of the best tools any health system in Canada is using, to be more efficient and be more focused on the patient, on quality and safety.”
He claims that if they were never to do another LEAN project in the province, the blood project will eventually pay for the $40 million they are investing.
“There is so much more we can do in LEAN, we can do to make the system more efficient and we are doing both on the operational side, making the services we provide more efficient as well as on the capital side,” Duncan said.
They are using LEAN principles to create the new facilities planned for both North Battleford and Moose Jaw, he said.
“It really has great benefits on quality and safety -- and yes, on efficiencies and cost savings.”
To read the previous article outlining the NDP's concerns, click here.