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Surgeries to spike thanks to cash infusion

Alberta Health Services has announced a $16.7-million injection for 5,000 additional high-priority surgeries.

Alberta Health Services has announced a $16.7-million injection for 5,000 additional high-priority surgeries.

The surgeries, which include urgent cancer, cardiac, gynaecology, neurology, ophthalmology and orthopaedic surgeries, will take place in various locations at old and new facilities across Alberta.

"This is great news for our patients. We've been asking for additional capacity to reduce priority wait times to improve access. Now we have it, we're very pleased with this announcement," said Dr. John Kortbeek, clinical department head, department of surgery, Calgary, at a news conference on Wednesday.

The announcement comes on the heels of two blitzes, for cataract surgeries and corneal transplants, performed earlier this year.

Asked by reporters how AHS will accommodate the additional procedures, Kortbeek said the health body will open new operating rooms, expand operating time in current operating rooms and perform more surgeries.

"It will immediately start improving wait times in the areas that we're going to start allocating the surgeries to," Kortbeek said. "For example in cancer surgery, it will have a dramatic impact on wait times in the coming months."

Cancer care gets a boost

A $208-million cancer infrastructure plan will significantly expand treatment capacity in both Calgary and Edmonton, according to AHS, which made the separate announcement Thursday.

The funding will support integrated and comprehensive cancer care and help meet demands of a growing, aging population.

"Our health capital plan provides the infrastructure needed to increase access and reduce wait times for key services identified in the five-year action plan, including cancer care, surgery, and emergency," health minister Gene Zwozdesky said in a statement.

The plan is part of phase two of the province's health capital plan, which will provide $1.3 billion over three years for new and previously announced projects in Alberta's two largest cities.

Announced in July, phase one allocated $1.2 billion for projects outside Edmonton and Calgary, as well as province-wide funding for maintenance, facility transition initiatives and technology and equipment upgrades.

The health plan came under fire from opposition leaders.

"I don't think people should be fooled though that a lot of these projects were announced already and frankly, there is still quite a lot of confusion around this," said Kevin Taft, the Liberal MLA for Edmonton-Riverview. "This was supposed to be out in March and so releasing a capital plan for 2010 in the middle of December 2010 makes you wonder what they've been up to.

"This is really the 2011 capital plan and let's be honest, there actually wasn't one for 2010," he said.

Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason slammed the government for ignoring long-term care beds in the plan and said it has failed to address acute care issues for years.

"They've left units at excellent new facilities such as the Peter Lougheed Centre and the East Edmonton Health Centre empty while they run with scissors to cut ribbons on shiny new buildings. Making these new health facilities work is not something this government has figured out yet," Mason said in a statement.

The province also recently announced $105 million to build new continuing care spaces, in support of a commitment to open at least 1,000 new spaces a year for the next five years. More than 800 new spaces have already opened this year.

The health capital plan includes funding for eight new projects and eight previously announced projects, including $67 million in Edmonton — $39 million of which goes to expansion plans for the Cross Cancer Institute.

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