03/03/2015 05:31 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan NDP criticizes Lean health program for stopwatch tracking of nurse

REGINA - Government consultants used a stopwatch to track the movements of a nurse for precisely four minutes and 59 seconds as part of a program to streamline Saskatchewan health care.

The Opposition raised a document titled "Time Observation Form" in question period on Tuesday as another example of what it calls problematic methods in the government's Lean cost-savings initiative.

"I'm hearing from nurses all the time that they are fed up and tired of being followed around with stopwatches. They want to do their jobs," said NDP Leader Cam Broten.

Broten has long criticized a $40-million contract with the U.S. consultant John Black and Associates to implement Lean.

The document from January 2014 lists 17 steps as it records a nurse's movements for almost five minutes, including the time it took the nurse to walk around while carrying out duties.

It goes as far as noting that it took three seconds for the nurse to check a supply room and one second for the nurse to turn around.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said the precise tracking was necessary to know how nurses spend their time.

"This is a very accurate description of exactly what happens at each step in the process."

Duncan said one instance where time-tracking has been useful was at a hospital where nurses who treat chemotherapy patients were monitored. He said many patients had chills during treatment and nurses had to bring them blankets.

"Blankets were all kept at one end of the facility ... they'd have to walk all the way down to the end of the hall," said Duncan, who added that it was more efficient to move blankets into each room.

"When you add up all that time, it doesn't seem like a lot, but if you think about it, in an eight-hour shift or a 12-hour shift, if a nurse is spending 20 or 30 minutes just walking to get a blanket, that's time we can spend elsewhere."

Duncan also reiterated previous government statements that Lean has helped save the province more than $125 million.

Broten said Lean hasn't improved health care or helped front-line workers to be more efficient.

"What you need is an open mind, honest discussions with health-care professionals and then the application of good common sense," he said.

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

The government's contract with John Black and Associates is set to end this month.