12/12/2013 11:43 EST | Updated 02/11/2014 05:59 EST

Merger of Regina's pediatric wards will be better for kids: health minister

REGINA - Saskatchewan's health minister says he's confident that a merger of the pediatric wards at Regina's two hospitals will mean better care for children.

The Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region is closing the pediatric ward at the Pasqua Hospital and merging it with the ward at the General hospital.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan says he has assurances from key pediatricians, pediatric oncologists, an infection control specialist and others that the changes will improve care for kids.

"What we've had difficulty providing in the past is, we've had all of our pediatric services all located at one centre, the General hospital, except for this little island of what has now over some time really turned out to be pediatric oncology," Duncan said at the legislature Thursday.

"So this is really about providing a better level of care that we can provide centred in one facility."

The health region says there has been a declining number of children being admitted to both hospitals. It says, on average, the General has 17 pediatric patients in its 26 beds every day while the Pasqua has three patients in its 12 beds.

Dr. Juliet Soper, head of pediatrics for the health region, says children at Pasqua Hospital have lacked services such as dedicated social workers or dieticians.

Duncan also said a big part of the reason he's comfortable with the merger is because of a recommendation from Dr. Jessica Minion, a microbiologist and head of infection control for the health region.

Concerns had been raised about having children with cancer, whose immune systems are compromised, in contact with children who have infectious illnesses.

Minion said in a letter that "separated oncology wards do not exclude infectious patients and general pediatric wards do not exclude immunocompromised patients. The idea that oncology wards are 'clean' compared to general wards is a dangerous misconception that can lead to false sense of security and do a serious disservice to those vulnerable patients."

She also said current planning for the pediatric ward at Regina General Hospital includes strategies to enhance infection control.

The transition is to begin Jan. 6 and is scheduled to be finished by June.

The Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region has also decided that the most critically ill children should be transported to a single provincial site in Saskatoon. Duncan said that just formalizes practices currently in place.

"We are in the position where we have not been able to provide all of the types of services that would be within a pediatric intensive care unit in both cities," said Duncan.

"The sub-specialities, many of them for pediatrics, are based in Saskatoon, and we just do not have the volume of pediatric patients to provide both services in both cities. To this point, we've been asking family pediatricians to play a role that they really should not be put into a position to play. They're family pediatricians that have been providing support to intensive care."

The Opposition wants the government to change course and stop the closure at Pasqua Hospital.

New Democrat health critic Danielle Chartier is also concerned with the plan to transfer all young intensive care patients to Saskatoon, which she says takes children and families further from their home and support community.

"Cutting hospital capacity in a growing province makes no sense," said Chartier.

"Failing to put the right resources in place, like properly trained health-care specialists, is short-sighted. And cutting back to one children's unit and no intensive care available in the south part of the province for the sickest little ones is just unacceptable."