Earlier this week, the Alberta government announced that it plans to contract ophthalmology surgeries to private clinics.
The province is still negotiating with the clinics, but they expect private surgeries to be running by January 2022.
According to a quote in the media release, Verna Yiu, president and CEO of AHS, these clinics will handle low-risk ophthalmology surgeries, funded by public money. More complex surgeries will still occur in public facilities.
Alberta saw about 290,000 surgeries last year, 15% of which were performed by private surgical facilities. During the 2019–2020 budget year, Alberta spent about $34 million on ophthalmological surgeries, for both public and private surgeries.
While the the RFP specifically named cataract and non-cataract surgeries, the media release claimed that as of last week, 13,432 people were waiting for cataract surgeries in Alberta. Of those, a little over hald had been waiting for longer than the “clinically appropriate target wait time”.
Here’s how many cataract surgeries were performed in Alberta over the last 5 years, according to AHS’s 2019–2020 annual report:
That’s a 19.5% increase over a 5-year period, with an average increase of 3.78% per year. Although 2015–2016 was far under that and last year was more than double that.
And here’s how wait times looked over the same time frame for ready-to-treat cataract surgeries, both public and private:
It’s clear that wait times have increased over the last 5 years. And the reason why the UCP government uses to justify using private surgery clinics “ increase capacity for surgeries” and “decrease the waitlist” in an effort to “ensure all Albertans receive scheduled surgeries within clinically appropriate targets”.
Here’s the thing though: all of that is possible without using private clinics.
Take a look at this statement from the last paragraph in the media release:
Alberta’s government has invested $120 million in capital funding over three-years in AHS-owned facilities under the Alberta Surgical Initiative to reduce wait times for more complex surgeries that cannot be performed in CSFs.
They’ve just shown us that if they want to, they can reduce wait times without outsourcing surgeries to private clinics. They’re spending an average of $40 million a year to reduce wait times for complex surgeries, which I mentioned above are done in public facilities.
Private surgical services aren’t necessary. They’re a preference.
Oh, and they’re not done yet. In a Twitter thread earlier this week, AHS claimed that an RFP will be released later this month to privatize orthopaedic surgeries.