UCP increase diagnostic spending by $35M after cutting it by $40M

In this year’s budget, the UCP plan to spend $35 million more on diagnostic, therapeutic and other patient services. Their first year in power, they cut spending in that area by $40 million.

Last week, the Alberta government announced that it’ll provide $33-million in one-time funding toward MRIs and CT scans this year.

The announcement claims that the new funding will “drive down wait times for Albertans needing non-emergency CT scans and MRIs in public hospitals”, as well as “spark innovation to provide the best patient care.”

This funding, according to the announcement, could result in up to 50,000 more CT scans (12% increase) and up to 45,000 more MRI scans (22% increase).

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The government spends $983 million a year on diagnostic imaging, including ultrasounds, X-rays, and mammography, as well as MRIs and CT scans.

According to Jason Kenney’s comments in a media presser, about half of that ($507 million) funds diagnostic services in clinics and doctor’s offices. The other $476 million is spent in Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health facilities, $148 million of which specifically goes toward MRIs and CT scans.

This $33 million will be in addition to that.

Here’s the thing though.

Total spending in the 2021–2022 Ministry of Health budget for “diagnostic, therapeutic, and other patient services” is $2.404 billion (it doesn’t break it down further into just diagnostic). In 2020–21, spending in this area was $2.369 billion, which is an increase of $35 million.

So that’s good, right? Well, let’s take a look at the last 3 budget years:

Operating expense spending for diagnostic, therapeutic and other patient services. In millions $.

That gives us an increase of $35 million this year and an increase of $30 million last year, for a total increase of $65 million over those 2 years.

Hmmm. Still seems good. But there’s more.

In 2018–2019, the year before the UCP took power, the NDP spent $2.379 billion on operating expense for diagnostic, therapeutic and other patient services.

What that means is that the UCP cut spending in this area by $40 million in their first year in power. And if you add it all up, there’s a net increase of only $25 million, with an average per year spending of only $8.3 million.

It took the UCP 3 years to pass what the NDP spent in their last year.

Between 2018–2019 and 2021–2022, operating expense spending for diagnostic, therapeutic and other patient services has increased 1.1%. That’s not per year: that’s for all 3 years. That wouldn’t even cover population growth for 1 year, let alone inflation, and let alone for all 3 years.

While it’s great that the government is spending $35 million more this year on diagnostic services than they did last year, their spending cuts the first year exacerbated wait times for these tests. The wait times they’re planning to address with this new funding are partly their fault.

And in case you’re curious, spending in this area will increase by 0.4% next year and 0.5% the following year.

On a related note, Kenney mentioned the following in his presser:

AHS will also work better to manage increased demand by reducing unnecessary tests that don’t provide value to patients. Improved referral and booking systems will provide clinical support to family doctors and specialists to make referrals for the right patients.

It wasn’t clear how many people currently are getting unnecessary tests done in Alberta each year, let alone what qualifies as an unnecessary test.

You can watch the original media conference below:

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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