CUPE condemns new Saskatchewan breast cancer initiative

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Many people hold a pink breast cancer ribbon.
Teachers, nurses, doctors. If they don’t treat these professions properly, who do they? marcojean20 via Pixabay

Pushing for provincial healthcare to stay in-province.

On Nov. 30, 2023, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) released an article bringing the public’s attention to the Saskatchewan government’s initiative to deal with the lacking services for breast cancer diagnosis in Saskatchewan. 

According to a Global News article, Health Minister Everett Hindley said, “Current essential diagnostic testing wait times are unacceptable for Saskatchewan residents and immediate action must be taken.” To solve this problem, the province has chosen to send patients to a private company in Calgary for their urgent care needs due to a continuing staffing shortage in Saskatchewan. 

The CUPE article highlighted that the wage difference between Saskatchewan and other provinces like Alberta and Manitoba is at least six dollars. Bashir Jalloh, the CUPE Health Care Workers President, mentioned that, “Saskatchewan pays technologists $39 per hour,” indicating a need for the government to address the pay gap. The article also highlighted that the Regina Breast Assessment Centre radiologists take no patients on Mondays and Fridays.  

This means that there is little to no staff available to address the rising demand as the number of patients has increased, but nothing is being done to increase staffing. Wait times for breast cancer imaging have increased, creating the need for more staff and clinics to assess patients locally and more efficiently.  

However, instead of putting the work in to make a healthier healthcare system in Saskatchewan, the province chose a short-term solution that will ultimately harm Saskatchewan’s local healthcare system in the long run. 

According to the Global News article, the province has been struggling with the healthcare system for years. It has been short on staffing and lacking the space for people needing long-term care, resulting in hospitals that are overcapacity and employees that are overworked. 

 Matt Love, MLA for Saskatoon Eastview and rural health critic, said, “We need to have a situation where healthcare workers want to work in Saskatchewan and feel respected.” Love said sending patients to Calgary is a “sign of their [the healthcare system’s] failure” by not being able to care for patients in their home province. 

In a press release, Kyleigh Williams, the 2nd Region Vice President of CUPE 5430 Region 3, said, “In 10 years, there has not been a time where we have had comfortable staffing levels, where people haven’t been mandated, where people haven’t been refused vacation, and I started working rurally, and it was very common.” 

“When there are shortages rurally, it’s kind of been a practice to send those patients to urban centres like Regina and Saskatoon to have access to the care they need, services they need. We’re getting to a point where Regina and Saskatoon, our major centres, can’t accommodate that.”  

Williams continued, saying the provincial government needs to do better. “We don’t have the staffing here, and this isn’t a new problem, but we need new solutions. What do we do when Regina can’t take the workload from somewhere else that can’t offer those services?” 

Jallow emphasized the need for a more comprehensive plan to add more staff, address the overall diagnostic waitlist for better patient care, and include training spaces and better infrastructure to accommodate more patients.  

The retention of staff would not be possible unless the workload is improved and compensation is increased. Workers will work in places where they are treated better, and this is what the province of Saskatchewan is facing – a lack of retention.  

This is a pressing matter that must be addressed sooner rather than later, to help keep healthcare staff in this province and not relocating away from Saskatchewan. 

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