01/23/2014 12:08 EST | Updated 03/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan health regions to miss surgery wait target promised by government

REGINA - The two biggest health regions in Saskatchewan will not meet the government's target date for making sure patients have surgery within three months.

The government promised in March 2010 that no one would have to wait longer than 12 weeks for surgery by March 2014.

But health officials said Thursday that the Saskatoon Health Region will take until late 2014 to meet the target and the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region will need another year.

"Regina, the primary issue that they encountered was a shortage of operating-room nurses, so they were forced to close some of their operating rooms both at the General and Pasqua hospitals during the week because they simply didn't have enough operating-room nurses to staff them," said Mark Wyatt, acting assistant deputy minister of health.

"And that dramatically reduced the volume that they were performing and required in order to keep up with the wait-time reduction and meeting their wait-time targets."

Wyatt says the Regina health region has since hired more nurses and is making good progress.

In Saskatoon, the region had planned for more surgeries, but there was "a spike in demand" that wasn't anticipated, he said.

Statistics to the end of November show that 79 per cent of patients provincewide are getting surgery within three months.

The government says there are 4,796 patients waiting more than three months for surgery — 10,555 fewer than when the surgical initiative began in March 2010.

Wyatt is pleased with the results.

"While we haven't fully achieved the target within a four-year time frame, it's absolutely still our intention that we will achieve this target. We recognize that Regina and Saskatoon have had some difficulties along the way and we've worked them to develop their corrective action plans so that they can get back on course," said Wyatt.

"So, from our perspective, it certainly would have been preferable for us to be able to meet the target within the four-year time frame. But I think when we meet it within a five-year time frame, it's still going to stand out as a remarkable success for this initiative."