The province will spend $8 million over the next six weeks to address long waiting lists for surgeries and diagnostic scans.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) wants to do 2,230 more operations and 3,500 more diagnostic scans by March 31.
“This is all in response to what Albertans have told us that they require,” said Health and Wellness minister Gene Zwozdesky on Tuesday.
The effort will include surgeries and non-surgical procedures with long wait lists: urgent cancer surgery, orthopedic surgery (including hip and knee replacements), gynecology, neurosurgery, heart surgery and cataract surgery.
As well, the province will perform 3,500 more MRI and CT scans, beginning immediately.
The increase will boost the number of operations and scans about five per cent above normal levels, said Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett. The increase will be done with existing facilities and personnel by extending hours and asking casual or part-time employees to work more, Duckett said.
In the provincial budget announced last week, the government promised to cover AHS’s $1.3-billion deficit and increase funding a further six per cent.
Tuesday’s announcement is the beginning of a much larger, longer-term plan to address wait times.
“We’ll be looking at everything we do to see what we can do over the longer term,” Duckett said.
He wants to see 10 per cent more procedures over the next year.
“It is an exciting day,” said Dr. Bill Johnston, site medical director for the University of Alberta Hospital.
“This is the news we’ve all been hoping and waiting for.”
Alberta’s hip and knee project, which has been ongoing for the last five years, got waiting lists in that area to a manageable three months but hard decisions and re-prioritizing has seen those waits grow to six months and nine months in some cases, Johnston said.
“That is too long when you see these people in agony,” Johnston said. “I’ve been in this business for 25 years and I guess I’ve been fighting for resources for 25 years.”
Wildrose Alliance MLA Paul Hinman had concerns and questions about the six-week plan to address what for years been an ongoing issue.
“How long have they known it and why didn’t they address it before now, and is it doable?” he asked.
“I think it’s short-term gain for long-term pain,” said Alberta Liberal critic Kevin Taft.
He’s concerned that 81 per cent of the additional cataract surgeries, as well as 92 per cent of added knee and hip replacements will be done at for-profit clinics rather than public hospitals.
“Somebody needing hip or cataract surgery is going to love this,” Taft said, “but as taxpayers and as people who value a publicly delivered system, this is a dangerous trend.”