09/24/2012 07:21 EDT | Updated 11/24/2012 05:12 EST

Saskatchewan government says surgical wait times are close to goal

REGINA - Saskatchewan is inching towards some big reductions in surgical wait times, but the province's two biggest cities are still dealing with bottlenecks.

The Ministry Of Health issued an update Monday on its efforts to cut surgical wait times.

The province set an ambitious goal in April 2010 to ensure no one in Saskatchewan has to wait more than three months for surgery.

That target is being phased in — the goal for 2012-2013 is to have no one waiting longer than six months.

Right now, the Saskatchewan government says seven out of ten health regions are within five per cent of the goal.

Failing to make the grade are Kelsey Trail and Saskatoon, at 90 per cent, and Regina Qu'appelle, which is 81 per cent.

Heartland has hit the 100 per cent mark, Cypress and Sunrise are at 99 per cent, Prairie North and Five Hills are at 98 per cent, Sun Country is at 97 per cent, and Prince Albert Parkland is at 95 per cent.

Since taking over as government, the Saskatchewan Party has spearheaded an 82-per-cent drop in wait times for surgery.

As of July 31 of this year more than 2,200 fewer people were on a waiting list compared to a year earlier.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan insists the results are encouraging so far, but concedes that Regina and Saskatoon have a tougher road ahead of them than some of the rural regions.

"In some of the smaller regions they do perform some surgeries, so it would be some laproscopic procedures, maybe minor surgical procedures. Typically the larger, more invasive procedures such as surgeries related to cancer, such as hip and knee replacement surgeries, those are typically the ones that would be done in Regina and Saskatoon."

That impacts the larger centres because they then absorb the responsibility for that patient under the count.

The government says the reason for Regina's lower rate is due to an unexpected increase in orthopedic procedures.

Duncan also notes that earlier this year Regina health region told the province it needed millions of dollars in extra funding to reach that goal. The minister instructed them to look for efficiencies in their own system and he's hoping to see some improvements soon.

Duncan insists the latest numbers are lower than they could be because summer holidays tend to reduce capacity and result in fewer procedures being carried out.

He says numerous efforts have been made to target certain surgeries that get backed up in the cities, including the use of third-party surgical clinics.

"Pool referrals" have allowed patients more timely access to surgeons and a surgical website shows patients and general practitioners which surgeons have the shortest wait lists for specific procedures.

Duncan says those efforts and others make him confident the three-month wait target will be attainable by the March 31, 2014 deadline.