10/30/2014 05:16 EDT | Updated 12/30/2014 05:59 EST

NDP criticizes travel costs of consultants for Lean health-care program

REGINA - Consultants hired through a government program to streamline health services in Saskatchewan have spent more than $2.7 million on travel costs.

The province is paying $40 million over four years for the consultants, who are looking for ways to reduce spending and improve health-care efficiency.

A cost breakdown for the Lean contract with U.S. company John Black and Associates includes travel costs from July 2014 to November 2015.

A government spokeswoman said there are about 25 consultants who work under the contract.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said the government knew that consultants would need to travel to Saskatchewan.

"These were things that we contemplated when we decided to embark on this," he said.

The costs include travel for John Black as well as a number of other people.

The Opposition is also criticizing an internal email that said the company was spending at least 25 per cent of its time and budget over three months earlier this year responding to comments and questions.

The email said this included "responding to requests for data as a result of the (Opposition's) questions and of attempting to make sense and get clarification on many unsubstantiated comments and rumours about its consultants and modus operandi."

"If John Black wants to defend himself and his consultancy, he should do it on his own time and his own dime," said NDP Leader Cam Broten.

The Opposition has long criticized the Lean program, arguing that it ignores concerns from front-line workers.

"It is outrageous," Broten said. "It's creating an atmosphere, a climate in our health-care system that's counterproductive."

Premier Brad Wall has said it has already paid for itself with savings on the design for the new children's hospital in Saskatoon and a new hospital in Moose Jaw.

The New Democrats raised concerns about the Lean program last week in question period, using a memo written by a health official on behalf of a leadership team.

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."

Broten has repeatedly called for the program to be scrapped.