The Provincial Auditor’s 2019 Report, released today, highlights significant problems in the Sask. Party government’s handling of its largest portfolio, health. The NDP Opposition is calling on the government to provide Saskatchewan people the assurance they need that our public healthcare system is a priority.
Specifically, the report points to significant issues with the awarding of millions of dollars of public contracts to vendors funding travel junkets for eHealth employees responsible for awarding contracts, a growing health infrastructure deficit, and gaps in monitoring the prescribing and dispensing of opioids.
eHealth: “Vendor influence and related conflicts of interest”
The Auditor found there were eight instances of vendor-sponsored travel where there was no contractual obligation, including three trips outside of Canada with no apparent business reason. She also found that not one of the 10 sole-sourced contracts tested by the auditor had any written justification.
She also noted that three trips outside of Canada were paid for by vendors, and two of the attendees who attended were involved in the procurement process with the same vendors who paid for the travel. In response, the Auditor outlined several recommendations “to mitigate vendor influence and related conflicts of interest.”
“The findings of the Auditor confirm our fears and validate the questions we’ve been raising for months,” said NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat. “In November Minister Reiter committed to ‘act accordingly’ on any recommendations coming back from this investigation — that time to act is now.”
The NDP is calling on the government to schedule a special Public Accounts Committee meeting to scrutinize the full scope of the issues at eHealth and get answers that have not been provided to date, and to release the external report the eHealth board commissioned last summer looking into contracts awarded to companies that sponsored travel junkets for employees.
Opioids: "Ineffective and insufficient monitoring”
In 2018, 119 people died due to opioids in Saskatchewan, a province where the prescribing of opioids is well above the national level, and the Auditor’s Report reveals “ineffective and insufficient monitoring of opioid prescribing and dispensing practices” calling opioid misuse in the province a “crisis”.
“The Auditor’s report confirms what we already know — that this government has failed to get ahead of the opioid crisis that is ravaging our province,” said NDP Mental Health and Addictions Critic Danielle Chartier. “The Sask. Party has been inexcusably late to this fight while more and more families are losing loved ones.
“On top of the Auditor’s findings, there is a physician shortage for opioid substitution therapies in Regina, and the government has no solid plan in place to deal with it. Meanwhile, families across the province are still struggling to get access to proper addictions treatment. These issues need to be solved in order to finally tackle this devastating crisis.”
Health Infrastructure: “Critical condition”
The auditor reported that as of May 2018, the province’s health care facilities averaged 40 years of age and a facility condition index of 45%, which is listed as “critical.” In Saskatoon and surrounding areas, the facilities account for nearly half the $3.3 billion of the estimated deferred maintenance, with an average facility condition index of 26%, which translates to poor condition.
“When a government fails to conduct preventative maintenance activities within expected timeframes and passes over Saskatoon-area capital maintenance projects that have been designated priority, that government simply isn’t doing its job,” Mowat said. “Saskatchewan people expect that their health facilities will be properly maintained, but the government has clearly dropped the ball. We’ve seen how disruptions in maintenance can be detrimental to patient care. No family should have to go through that.”