thumb-2023-05-015-alberta-hospita-surgery This article is more than 1 year old

Alberta Surgery Wait Times Up, Total Surgical Volumes Down Since UCP Privatization Deal

New report finds Alberta is among the worst in reducing surgical wait times in Canada

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A new report from the Parkland Institute finds that the privatization of surgeries – expanded under the United Conservative Party’s Alberta Surgical Initiative – has not only failed to relieve hospital wait times, but actually diverted resources away from the public system.

In 2019, the Alberta UCP introduced the ASI to move surgeries to for-profit “chartered surgical facilities,” to, according to former premier Jason Kenney, “ensure that people get needed surgery in four months or less.”

But the report shows it has failed at that.

As of 2022, the report found wait times for hip replacements have increased sharply since the ASI was introduced. The province’s share of hip replacement patients meeting the national benchmark for wait times fell from 65% to 38% from 2019-2022.

Among knee replacement patients, the share meeting the benchmark fell from 62% to 27%. And, the share of cataract patients meeting the benchmark, the report notes, stood at 65% in 2022 – below the national average of 66%.

While the for-profit clinics increased their surgical volumes by 48%, health researcher Andrew Longhurst said, “we’ve seen surgical volumes drop by 12%, in Alberta Health Services public hospitals. So that has then also contributed, in terms of the shift of resources moving into the for-profit sector.”

“Despite all of the rhetoric and pronouncements around increasing provincial surgical capacity, the data shows that in the first three years of ASI, we’ve actually seen the exact opposite,” Longhurst said. “We’ve seen a 6% decline in overall surgical volumes in the province.”

In 2018-2019, AHS performed 285, 945 surgeries. In 2021-2022 that declined to 268,335.

This has seen resources move from the public to the for-profit system.

Earlier this year, Longhurst found the CSI signed a deal with Clearpoint Health –a national private equity-owned surgical chain with 14 facilities and 53 ORs for over $100 million.

In the fine print, AHS provided the company a “volume floor,” or a “minimum number of surgeries to be allocated by AHS to the service provider.”

“It basically requires that AHS pay them, regardless of whether those surgeries are delivered. So the onus is on them to really ensure that the public system is ensuring that they can get the volumes delivered in those facilities,” Longhurst said.

“This is your classic issue where your workforce can’t be in two places at once,” Longhurst said. “We’re seeing it take a significant toll on our capacity in the public system and that in turn is reducing Alberta’s ability to deliver higher volumes across the board and reduce wait time.”

Clearpoint did not respond to requests for comment from PressProgress.

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Contacted by PressProgress, AHS took issue with the report’s findings. “The Alberta Surgical Initiative has already led to a reduced backlog of cases and in some areas, more surgeries being completed now than before COVID-19,” AHS said.

In the 2022/23 fiscal year, AHS said the system completed approximately 292,000 surgeries – a slight increase from the 285, 945 performed in 2018-2019.

“There are now less people waiting for surgeries than before the pandemic, and less people waiting longer than clinically recommended. AHS has made significant improvements to the wait list in the 2022/23 fiscal year, and more Albertans are getting their surgeries within clinically recommended timelines. In addition, more cancer patients are getting their surgery faster and within clinically recommended timelines.”


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Mitchell Thompson
Mitchell Thompson is PressProgress’ Ontario reporter. His reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, and public services and privatization, and public accountability.

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