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UCP government privatizing eye surgery

The Alberta government announces this week that they plan to outsource low-risk ophthalmology surgeries to what they call “chartered surgical facilities”.

Earlier this week, the Alberta government announced that it plans to contract ophthalmology surgeries to private clinics.

Alberta Health Services issued a request for proposals in April, which closed a month later. Of the 13 proposals submitted, 4 made the cut: 2 in the Calgary area and 2 in the Edmonton area.

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:

Surgeries% change
2015–201636,8060.61%
2016–201738,0533.39%
2017–201839,3403.38%
2018–201940,5543.09%
2019–202043,9728.43%

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:

Average
(overall)
ChangeAverage
(90th
percentile)
Change
2015–201613.02.433.03.1
2016–201713.90.934.01.0
2017–201814.91.038.64.6
2018–201916.92.048.09.4
2019–202018.41.549.11.1
Wait time is in weeks

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.

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By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 4 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

4 replies on “UCP government privatizing eye surgery”

“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.”

I’m pretty sure this was the case when I had cataract surgery in Calgary at a private clinic 20 years ago, paid by AHS. At that time, the Dr who did my surgeries was apparently working two days a week in Calgary, and flying to LA for another three days, where he performed the same service as a for-profit provider. Supposedly, private ophthalmology clinics were complaining that the number of surgeries they were allowed by AHS was too low. My Dr had a plaque on his office wall proclaiming him Canadian Ophthalmological Society “Entrepreneur of the Year!”

Hi Kim. Do you know who pays for these surgeries? Meaning, does the individual pay out of pocket or does that depend if he/she was recommended for surgery by their doctor? Also, Do these surgeons get paid by AHS in a per-surgery basis or are they under contract.

Just some questions that came to mind while reading your article.

Thanks for your work informing us!

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