04/25/2013 02:58 EDT | Updated 06/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Ombudsman says health complaints up Saskatchewan; doubled from five years ago

REGINA - Saskatchewan's ombudsman says complaints about the province's health-care system are double what they were five years ago.

Kevin Fenwick says in his annual report that there were 186 health-related complaints in 2012, compared to 78 complaints in 2007.

"They are up significantly. Over the course of the last number of years actually, the number of complaints that have come to our office have just about doubled with respect to health and that's for a number of reasons," Fenwick said Thursday.

"We think that the primary reason for the increase is because of increased public awareness about our office."

In short, more people are learning that they can go to the ombudsman if they have trouble.

Fenwick says there is a spike in numbers every time the minister of health mentions the ombudsman office in the legislative assembly.

Fenwick says the concerns cover many issues, usually about fairness.

"Often they're issues involving policies that are good policies, but they're applied too strictly, so the concern is that they result in unfairness," he said.

For example, Fenwick says there was a man who needed a particular piece of medical equipment that wasn't covered under health policies. But Fenwick says the man's situation was different than what the policy was designed for.

In another case, a man needed a medical procedure that wasn't covered in Saskatchewan. But again, Fenwick says the reason the man needed the procedure "was very different than the norm."

"So a large part of what we do is to say, 'Is this the exception that proves the rule, is this the case that requires some discretion be exercised?' (Concerns) are often about that," said Fenwick.

The annual report also shows that the overall number of complaints across all ministries increased 15 per cent — rising to 2,495 in 2012 from 2,160 in 2011. Fenwick says he believes that is because of more public awareness and news coverage.