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Saskatchewan moving to a single health authority

In a major shakeup to the health care system, the government of Saskatchewan is moving to a single health authority for the province.

It says it will reduce the 12 existing health regions to a single administrative entity by the fall.

Having a new board in place then will be only the start of a process that will result in better administration and less duplication, Health Minister Jim Reiter said Wednesday as the results of an advisory panel report were announced.

Reiter insisted Saskatchewan will not make the same mistake Alberta did, amalgamating health regions too rapidly and before management structures were in place.

“We want to do this quickly but it is important to do this right,” he said.

The government will accept all of the recommendations from the three-person advisory panel appointed in August to study the structure of health-care administration, Reiter said.

Besides moving to a single health authority, the panel also recommended more consolidation of services, from diagnostic imaging to the dispatch of emergency medical services.

The government says it is consolidating administration, not centralizing services for people in the province.

The goal is for patients to receive the same or better care, Reiter said, adding that patients don’t really care about the management structure of the health care system as long as the services are there.

The province will be working with unions as the consolidation process takes place, he said.

“The existing contracts, obviously, are going to be respected.”

A spokesperson for CUPE, which represents 13,000 employees in Saskatchewan’s health care sector, expressed skepticism that the overhaul will accomplish its aims.

“Today’s announcement creates more uncertainty for frontline workers and for rural communities across Saskatchewan,” Gordon Campbell, president of the CUPE health care council, said in a news release. “It is also questionable that any cost savings will result.”

Financial implications unclear

The process will mean financial savings for the government, but it’s not currently possible to pinpoint a total dollar figure, Reiter said. Later in the day, a ministry spokeswoman said early estimates peg the savings at $10 million to $20 million by 2018-19.

The government is struggling to deal with a billion-dollar deficit. However, its ongoing work aimed at cutting costs is separate from today’s health administration announcements, Reiter said.

On the other hand, it only makes sense that as the system consolidates accounting, information technology, legal services and other non-medical services, there will be savings, he said.

In the first year, however, he said costs will likely be slightly higher due to severance payments. Reiter could not offer more information about job losses or changes.

Danielle Chartier, the NDP’s health critic, said Wednesday’s announcement is a betrayal of everything the Saskatchewan Party promised in the last election.

“When the Sask. Party talks about consolidation, everyone knows they mean cuts — cuts to health care centres, cuts to frontline health care workers, and cuts to the care Saskatchewan people deserve,” Chartier said in a news release.