03/02/2015 12:27 EST | Updated 05/02/2015 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan health minister estimates Lean health-care savings at $125M

REGINA - The Saskatchewan government says a program that's meant to streamline health care has led to more than $125 million in estimated savings since 2008.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan says the number includes savings made in day-to-day operations and in the design for a new hospital in Moose Jaw.

"This is a moving target," Duncan said Monday. He added that the current estimate means "finding efficiencies, finding savings (and) providing a better service for our clients."

Duncan said the savings include cuts made before a $40-million contract was signed with a U.S. consulting company hired to help implement the program, known as Lean.

NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten called the government's estimate of $125 million in savings misleading.

"It's (another) example of the gobbledygook that we've seen with this government when it comes to the Lean project."

Broten said that while the government is heralding the management of blood products as one of the ways Lean saved money, that project happened in 2008 before John Black and Associates was hired.

"It was people in the ministry, blood services (and) health regions using the local expertise and making improvements," Broten said. "That's how Lean could be applied and should be applied."

The NDP has long criticized the contract with John Black and Associates, which is set to end this month. Broten has said the consultant's methodology hasn't improved health care in the province.

Duncan said the information on estimated savings was collected in response to a provincial auditor's report released in December.

Acting auditor Judy Ferguson said Saskatchewan's Health Quality Council didn't know whether the use of Lean has created sustainable change or improved things.

Duncan said he's confident Lean has helped. "This is more than just savings in terms of dollar amounts."

He pointed to a new database to track fragile infants who are at risk of respiratory complications and in need of antibiotic injections. Duncan said 24 per cent of affected infants missed necessary injections last year.

"I can now say that isn't going to be the case going forward."

In January, the New Democrats criticized travel costs of more than $1.2 million to send staff on tours to facilities across North America between Jan. 1 and March 31 as part of the Lean program.