Saskatchewan has turned to private health care to help clear up a backlog of patients waiting for day surgeries. The province said Monday that the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region has started booking patients for dental surgery and knee arthroscopy procedures at Omni Surgery Center, a private surgical facility. Health Minister Don McMorris said people have complained about delays for surgery and this move will help shorten wait times.

“We have people that are waiting over a year to receive some pediatric dental surgery, which is far too long, so it made sense to start with those procedures,” said McMorris. “Perhaps into the future we'll look at other procedures that could be done that have some very long waits.”

McMorris said the surgeries will be funded within the public health system, so patients won't have to pay for services and insisted no one will be allowed to jump the queue. The surgeries and locations will be assigned by the health region, he said.

Trent Truscott, executive director of surgery for the health region, said the goal is to do as many as 500 surgeries at Omni Surgery Centre over the next several months. The region's contract with Omni expires at the end of March. Truscott also said he doesn't believe there is a very big risk that the private facility will draw workers away from the public system.

“I know how big they are and I know how many operating rooms they run,” said Truscott. “They have a finite number of positions. It's not very many. We have hundreds of staff. They might have 15 people work here, whereas in surgery alone we're around 800.”

Dr. Alan Beggs, director of Omni, also said the center shouldn't impact staffing at public facilities. “There's no role for luring physicians whatsoever,” said Beggs. “We have a finite number of procedures that we perform ... so really we're not luring surgeons at all. They're assigned a room here. As opposed to room eight in the General Hospital, they get room one at Omni.”

The move was not without controversy. It goes against recommendations made by former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, who headed a commission on health care in Canada. Romanow said as recently as last August that the system needs some work, but changes should not include privatization. He said there's no evidence that grafting elements of privatization onto public health works.