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Question Period (20 April 2006)

Question Period

From Hansard - 20 April 2006

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Waiting Time for Cancer Care

Mr. McMorris: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I believe the people of Saskatchewan are confused today no doubt after the comments from this Health minister yesterday. A week ago the Health minister stood in the rotunda of the legislature and said he was ultimately responsible for health care in the province of Saskatchewan. But yesterday the minister stood in this Assembly and said, and I quote, “The New Democratic Party government, as the member opposite would suggest, is not responsible for long waiting times . . .”

To the minister: if he isn’t responsible for the long waiting times in this province, who is?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I always appreciate it when the members opposite quote me. It seems to have a different ring when they say it than when I say it in the Chamber.

Mr. Speaker, I stand by my statement that the minister is ultimately responsible for health care in the province. It’s why I’m willing to stand in this Chamber and answer questions on a daily basis from members of the opposition, from meeting with people on the street, in my office, in the grocery stores. Ultimately, Mr. Speaker, I as the minister am responsible for what happens within health care.

But, Mr. Speaker, we delegate authority for day-to-day operations. That delegation, Mr. Speaker, goes to regional health authorities and to agencies within the system. Mr. Speaker, we rely on those professionals to do the job that they also care about. So, Mr. Speaker, I take my responsibilities very seriously and I trust those around me who take their responsibilities seriously as well.

Mr. McMorris: — Well, Mr. Speaker, he didn’t like the way I requoted him yesterday. Well how about this quote from yesterday as well when he said that “The optimum wait time [for] . . . physician referral to oncologist . . . [is] about 9.5 weeks.”

That’s the optimum time in Saskatchewan to see an oncologist is nine and a half weeks. The national average wait time is four to five weeks, Mr. Speaker. Does the minister stand by those numbers that our wait times in Saskatchewan are twice as long as the national average?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I think the members opposite are aware that we consider the work of the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and the needs of Saskatchewan cancer patients to be a priority of this government. And as such we have put additional money over the last four and five years, Mr. Speaker, into cancer and into the agency. Mr. Speaker, the numbers that the member quotes, as ministers of Health are aware, are calculated differently in different provinces and are put together, are put together, Mr. Speaker, in ways to assume that we’ve got apples to apples comparison.

That having been said, Mr. Speaker, under the current circumstances, I am well aware that the wait times in the province are too long. The cancer agency and Saskatchewan Health are working very hard to bring those numbers down, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. McMorris: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I raised the case of Emily Morley, who was told that she would have to wait 12 weeks to see an oncologist. Now here’s what the minister had to say out in the rotunda after question period. And he said, and I quote:

Today in question period was the first time I’ve ever heard of this particular case. As I speak to you, I am still not aware of the particulars of this case, only the questions that were raised in question period.

Mr. Speaker, can the minister tell us if he received a phone call on Monday night regarding the specifics of this case? Yes or no.

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. On Monday night I received a telephone call concerning a petition that was being circulated. I was informed that the petition may be presented in the Chamber during the course of the week. Mr. Speaker, I thanked the caller for bringing that petition to my attention, knowing that a number of petitions are circulating through the province at any given time.

But, Mr. Speaker, the details of the case were not brought to my attention, Mr. Speaker — the question period matters yesterday and the family in question, Mr. Speaker. I still have not met with the family. I still have not had that case made directly to me. The work that Saskatchewan Health, the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, and others, Mr. Speaker, have taken place as a result of indirect inquiries.

Mr. McMorris: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Warren Morley, Emily’s husband, told us that a good friend of his had called the minister personally about Emily’s case Monday night. No doubt he talked about the petition and well over 700 names on the petition. But I find it rather interesting that in a half an hour phone call, he wouldn’t have talked about the specifics of the case, Mr. Speaker.

The minister stood in the rotunda yesterday and absolutely denied knowing any of the particulars about the case. Now that he’s had a chance to rethink that statement, will he come clean and tell us whether he knew for sure some of the particulars in this case?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the direction that the member opposite is providing to me. I did not have a half an hour telephone call. I discussed a petition with the individual who had called me. Mr. Speaker, I was not asked to intervene in the case. The information was simply being provided to me that there was a petition being circulated and the individual wanted me to have that.

Mr. Speaker, for the member opposite to say I had a half an hour conversation is completely incorrect. And, Mr. Speaker, this just flows from the credibility that the members have opposite in terms of quotes and bringing false information in front of the public.

Mr. McMorris: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We have since learned once again that after this NDP government is publicly embarrassed regarding Emily Morley, for example, Emily Morley has since got a phone call from Sask Health yesterday afternoon. She now has an appointment to see an oncologist a week from today. What happened to the 12-week waiting list?

We’re extremely pleased that Emily and her family are getting timely care in the province, but it’s absolutely appalling that people have to come to this Legislative Assembly to get the type of health care they deserve in this province.

Mr. Speaker, it begs the question: what about all the other patients that are sitting on waiting lists 12 weeks long to see an oncologist? Do they have to come to this Assembly to make their case public? What is he going to do to shorten the waiting list so people don’t have to come to this Assembly to plead their case?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Again I appreciate the question. And I too am very pleased that the system has worked for Mrs. Morley and that in fact she has received an appointment time to see an oncologist, Mr. Speaker, as a result of questions being raised yesterday — as I would have acted if the Morleys had come to see me or phoned me, as would have happened had a member phoned me in advance earlier in the week.

Mr. Speaker, the inquiries were made. The Saskatchewan Cancer Agency reviewed the file, and as a result of that they saw that there was some urgency to the case. And, Mr. Speaker, this is what the system was designed to do.

I encourage other people, other members of the public who are in the same situation, to keep in touch with their physicians, to work through the quality of care coordinators, and, Mr. Speaker, to familiarize themselves with the system so that those who are day to day responsible for the operations of the system can do the job that they’re expected to and who take responsibility to do.

Mr. McMorris: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Chris Andersen, Emily’s son, had a great analogy yesterday. He said that the NDP’s health care system is like a game of snakes and ladders. The family contacted the quality care coordinator and were told that they would have to wait like everyone else. Chris is frustrated that patients have to navigate this complex system without any guidance.

Mr. Speaker, what about the many people that are waiting throughout this province that are falling through the cracks? Will the minister stand in his place today and take the ultimate responsibility and ensure that people do not have to wait 12 weeks to see an oncologist so that they don’t have to come to this Assembly to plead their case to get timely health care?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Again I will repeat something I said yesterday and add a couple of pieces to that.

First and foremost, the cancer agency recognized, on the loss of two oncologists in Saskatoon, the need for recruitment activity to take place and have been very successful at recruiting a new oncologist in Saskatoon — and I might add, Mr. Speaker, have been successful also in recruiting one to Regina. Mr. Speaker, the cancer agency has been taking some very strong steps in that regard.

Secondly, Mr. Speaker, the cancer agency has established a wait times task force with representation from all disciplines and the department with the goal of improving access to agency services.

Mr. Speaker, this is action that was taken prior to this case coming forward and recognizes the need to deal with what we all agree is an unfortunate circumstance.

Mr. McMorris: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We know that there are currently five oncologists at the Saskatoon Cancer Centre. The minister has indicated that the sixth oncologist will be starting sometime in September and recruitment efforts are under way to find a second. That would make in Saskatoon Cancer Centre a total of seven oncologists.

But, Mr. Speaker, from the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency a letter dated September 21, 2002, and in that letter it quotes:

The Saskatoon Cancer Centre is experiencing a significant shortage of five out of nine positions are now vacant.

Five out of nine positions are now vacant. Mr. Speaker, what is the target for the Saskatoon cancer agency? In the letter they’re saying nine — they’re quoted as saying nine. At best effort by this minister they’ll get to seven. What is the target number for the Saskatoon cancer agency?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Saskatchewan Health works very closely with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency to determine the appropriateness of the work that’s being done, the budget that is allocated to it and, Mr. Speaker, we are very proud of the fact that we as a government have been able to commit to the agency increased funding in each of the years in the last five years, Mr. Speaker. This budget alone, which the members opposite have chosen not to support, has increased the cancer agency’s budget by 17 per cent or roughly $10 million, Mr. Speaker.

This is significant increase to assist the cancer agency to meet the internal targets that it sets and in order to meet the needs of cancer patients in Saskatchewan. Mr. Speaker, last year’s increase gave the agency the ability to see an additional 250 patients. Mr. Speaker, we assume that the agency this year will be able to see many, many more.

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