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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Saskatchewan boasts of lower surgery waits, but still delays in biggest regions

REGINA - Saskatchewan says the number of patients waiting more than three months for surgery is down 75 per cent since 2010, but there are still delays in the two biggest health regions.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said there were nearly 12,000 fewer patients waiting that long for surgery this past March than in March 2010. He says between January and March of this year, nearly 81 per cent of patients had their surgery within three months of being referred.

"The progress has been nothing short of remarkable in four years," Duncan said Wednesday.

The province said pooling referrals has shortened the time patients wait to see a specialist. That means patients have the option of seeing the first available specialist or waiting to see a specialist they prefer.

There has also been more use of private clinics for surgeries in areas such as orthopedics, ophthalmology and dental.

The numbers are in a report on the final year of a four-year surgical initiative in which the government promised that no one would have to wait longer than 12 weeks for surgery by March 2014.

Duncan says the next step is moving into maintenance mode.

"For as hard as it has been to get to the three-month wait, I think the next big challenge is going to be to maintain that," he said.

"I think this will have been a lost opportunity if we see the system backsliding in terms of the three-month wait, so we're going to be very vigilant to ensure that the regions are able to provide surgery to their patients within this time frame."

However, the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region has said it will need another year to meet the goal and the Saskatoon Health Region said it will take until late this year to hit the target.

"It's a little bit disappointing that Regina and Saskatoon didn't meet the three-months by March of 2014," Duncan said. "I think overall, just the amount of progress that has been made, has been nothing short of remarkable."

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