Sask. Party quietly backs away from ER wait times commitment

The Sask. Party has promised repeatedly since 2012 that emergency room wait times would be gone by 2017 – but made no progress on that promise, and has now backed away from the pledge. 

The promise to eliminate ER wait times by 2017 was made in dozens of documents, media releases and interviews. The decision to back away from that goal was just a few lines in the Health Ministry’s annual report.

“There's no question that it was an ambitious commitment, and I don't think most Saskatchewan people would fault the government for falling a bit short of achieving it if we actually saw significant progress toward reducing ER wait times. The problem is that we haven't seen progress. People are waiting far too long in our province's emergency rooms,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten, who raised this issue in the legislature on Tuesday. 

Saskatchewan has stopped reporting its province-wide ER wait times to the Canadian Institute of Health Information. When it last did, Saskatchewan’s wait times had doubled over just three years, hitting an average wait of about 3.5 hours before seeing a doctor in 2013, up from about 1.7 hours in 2010. Current numbers for Regina and Saskatoon’s health authorities show wait times still at about the 3.5-hour mark on average, with waits to see a physician at the Regina General Hospital now 4.4 hours, on average. 

“Just imagine having to sit in the ER waiting room, in serious pain, feeling helpless and worried as you watch the hours go by. The sad reality is that far too many Saskatchewan people don't have to imagine that, because they've experienced it,” said Broten. “I've heard far too many horror stories over the last few months of long ER waits causing major stress, pain and even premature deaths – like Michael Line, who went to the ER needing urgent help, but was left sitting in the waiting room for hours. Michael’s life was cut far too short.”

Michael Line was just 45 and had a history of heart problems. In August, he went to the ER at Swift Current’s Cypress Regional Hospital with heart attack symptoms. After 3.5 hours in the ER waiting room, he died.

According to the Health Ministry’s annual report, nine times in the past year there was a “delay or failure to reach a patient for emergent or scheduled services” resulting in a critical incident – a serious adverse health event including the actual or potential loss of life, limb or function. Those statistics don't include the thousands who have waited in pain and worry for hours.

“This government has had record revenues for eight long years, it's spent every penny, drained the savings account, and added billions to our province's debt; yet it hasn't managed to make a dent in ER wait times. In fact, wait times got worse,” said Broten. “That's unacceptable, and it speaks to the Sask. Party government's horribly misplaced priorities – they have no end of money for more out-of-country consultants and more administrators to sit behind desks, but they continually neglect the front lines of health care.”