10/23/2014 04:02 EDT | Updated 12/23/2014 05:59 EST

NDP calls for health-care program to be scrapped after critical memo

REGINA - Saskatchewan's Opposition says a multimillion-dollar program meant to reduce spending and streamline health care has been marred by criticisms from senior health administrators and needs to be scrapped.

NDP Leader Cam Broten has long argued that the Lean program ignores complaints from front-line health workers.

The New Democrats raised their latest concerns in the first question period of the legislature's fall sitting on Thursday using a memo written by a health official on behalf of a leadership team.

"The briefing note that we saw today ... (from) extremely qualified people, extremely experienced people who are providing opinions of what Lean is doing to the health-care system in terms of morale, in terms of quality, is shocking," said Broten, who added that the memo should be a "wake-up call."

The province is paying $40 million over four years for Lean consultants through the private company John Black and Associates.

The briefing note said the experience with the consultants was one of "lack of respect, 'tattling' on leaders if they question, expecting rigid conformity in a militaristic style, gossiping and undermining."

The memo criticized the consultants' use of "dogma" which it said is "incompatible with the alleged encouragement of new analysis and improvements," opting instead for an attitude of "you will free think exactly the way I free think."

The memo was prepared by Marlene Smadu, who is vice-president of quality and transformation for the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region.

"Now (criticism is) coming from the most senior levels of health-care administration," Broten said.

In March, Premier Brad Wall said the LEAN program had already paid for itself with savings on the design for the new children's hospital in Saskatoon and a new hospital in Moose Jaw.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said the government "knew going into this that this was going to be a four-year process."

"It's not surprising based on the fact that there have been some concerns that have been raised about not only Lean but also (John Black and Associates) itself," he said.

"We've tried to address some of the concerns with the final year of the contract, especially with how employees are first engaged when it comes to the training that they do take."

The government plans to end the contract early next summer, but said it's not because of concerns with the consultant group.

"I think we can point to a lot of results that say the process is working," Duncan said.

Saskatchewan is the first jurisdiction in Canada to apply the Lean program across its entire health system.