With two nurses and the Regina Pasqua Hospital behind him, New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Ryan Meili promised to increase the ranks of doctors, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and clinical care assistants by over 1,000 if elected to government.
Meili made the health platform announcement on Oct. 5, after making an announcement several days earlier about rural health care policy.
The NDP leader, himself a physician, said, “The pandemic has revealed how important it is to have high quality public health care, to make the investments and do the planning to make sure we're ready. Sask. Party cuts and neglect have undermined health care in our province. In these last few years, we've seen wait times grow; wait times for surgery for diagnostic imaging like MRI for mental health and addictions, and in our emergency rooms, like right here at Pasqua Hospital where, just a few months ago, a woman shared her story of waiting in the hospital for five days in the hallway for five days after being admitted. And we hear these stories all the time of emergencies that are overcrowded and under-resourced.”
He went on, “The people of Saskatchewan deserve to know that they will get the care they need when they need it. The cuts and neglect in primary care acute care and long-term care were a terrible idea before the pandemic. But now, as we prepare for a second wave, they're downright dangerous.”
Announcing a “health human resources plan,” Meili said, “This means an addition of enough funding to add 100 doctors, 150 registered nurses, 300 licensed practical nurses and 500 clinical care assistants. That's over 1,000 new health care professionals with the $100 million that we'll be investing in staffing in health care in Saskatchewan.”
“It's clear, we have a choice, a choice between this kind of investment or the cuts and privatization that Scott Moe have in mind. My message today to the people of Saskatchewan, you can have the choice you want, you can have a government that will put people first.”
Meili warned that Alberta’s rural doctors are “fleeing from that province,” due to cuts brought in by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government. “It will be the same here, if Scott Moe and the Sask. Party get their way,” he said.
Meili welcomed those doctors to Saskatchewan, as well as Alberta nurses.
Asked where those additional health care workers would be going, whether to the larger centres or to rural sites, Meili responded, “We’ll see a mix of urban and rural, part of our commitment to rural health care that we made just a few days ago. One of the things I mentioned in there is that this will be a health Human Resources strategy. We'll be working with the SHA (Saskatchewan Health Authority), with SMA (Saskatchewan Medical Association), SRNA (Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association), SUN (Saskatchewan Union of Nurses); all of the professional associations and healthcare unions, making sure that we distribute this in the right way, get that care where it's needed the most.”
Regarding communities like Estevan and Preeceville, which are frequently short of doctors, he responded, “It would be premature for me to say there’d be seven in Estevan and two in Preeceville. We need to make sure that we're working with the bodies of doctors and nurses and all the health care professionals in the province, to make sure those folks are in the right place. But it's absolutely necessary, especially in rural Saskatchewan. I was in Swift Current two days ago, talking with a nurse working in Herbert, and in Herbert, they've had the emergency room closed all summer. She had a patient in her long-term care facility they had to take by ambulance to Swift Current instead of just taking her around the building to the emergency room in Herbert. That doesn't make any sense. We need those services close to home so people can have them when they need it.”
As for where the money to pay for these additional health care professionals would be coming from, such as the NDP’s previously announced wealth tax Meili said, “There'll be no increase in taxes for ordinary folks. The wealth tax is part of how we'll be paying for these investments.
“One of the things that is interesting to note. Since the campaign started the Sask. Party has offered about $600 million in promises. They're accusing us of reckless spending and yet they're still talking, despite the fact that they're finding that money to throw around, they're still talking austerity; still putting us in a position where they're going to be doing cuts in health care, cuts in education. We've heard no commitments on the biggest things that matter the most.
“That's why we've focused on putting more teachers in the classroom or educational assistants in the classroom, and today we're focused on putting more doctors and nurses in our hospitals, clinics and long-term care.”
Meili was asked several questions regarding comments made by candidates on both sides on social media that may have been contrary to official party lines. He responded, “My focus is today on investing in health care. My focus is on the people of Saskatchewan, not the distractions of candidate comments. I'm focused on what matters most, which is getting our economy moving again, getting people back to work and making the investments that allow us to grow.”