Tommy Douglas was born 110 years ago this week, and his huge presence is still a force in Canadian politics, almost 29 years after his death. Ten years ago, Tommy was voted Greatest Canadian in a poll that was done by the CBC. His name still comes up a lot, particularly in Saskatchewan where he served as Premier for 17 years, and became known as the Father of Medicare.
Under the leadership of Brad Wall, the province is trying to transform health care into a model that brings costs under better control. Buzz words are important in all of this. When Wall and his Saskatchewan Party were first elected seven years ago, the operative phrase in health care was Patient First. Now the approach can be summed up in one 4 letter word – Lean.
The government is spending more than $40 million on implementing the principles of the Lean system. It was developed by Dr. James P. Womack, an American guru who studied Toyota in Japan. In recent years that company rose to challenge General Motors as the number one vehicle manufacturer in the world. Womack is convinced that the same methods and principles can be applied to health care.
The objective is to improve care while minimizing waste of health care dollars, and some aspects of it have been quietly implemented in Ontario and Manitoba. Lean is credited with some of the success that’s been achieved in reducing wait times. Brad Wall and his government are drinking more of the Lean Kool Aid than almost anyone else in the world.
The political stakes are high with an election expected in Saskatchewan no later than the spring of 2016. Because of the Douglas legacy, the NDP has always claimed ownership of the health care issue. As someone who lived there for several years, and accessed the health care system, I can tell you that neither party has yet to find the formula for success.
I’m Roger Currie