Devolution to democratic health authorities in Saskatchewan: an interim report.
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BACKGROUND: In 1995 Saskatchewan adopted a district health board structure in which two-thirds of members are elected and the rest are appointed. This study examines the opinions of board members about health care reform and devolution of authority from the province to the health districts. METHODS: All 357 members of Saskatchewan district health boards were surveyed in 1997; 275 (77%) responded. Analyses included comparisons between elected and appointed members and between members with experience as health care providers and those without such experience, as well as comparisons with hypotheses about how devolution would develop, which were advanced in a 1997 report by another group. RESULTS: Most respondents felt that devolution had resulted in increased local control and better quality of decisions. Ninety-two percent of respondents believed extensive reforms were necessary and 83% that changes made in the previous 5 years had been for the best. However, 56% agreed that there was no clear vision of the reformed system. A small majority (59%) perceived health care reform as having been designed to improve health rather than reduce spending, contrary to a previous hypothesis. Many respondents (76%) thought that boards were legally responsible for things over which they had insufficient control, and 63% perceived that they were too restricted by rules laid down by the provincial government, findings that confirm the expectation of tensions surrounding the division of authority. Respondents with current or former experience as health care providers were less likely than nonprovider respondents to believe that nonphysician health care providers support decisions made by the regional health boards (45% v. 63%, p = 0.02), a result that confirmed the contention that the role of health care providers on the boards would be a source of tension. INTERPRETATION: Members of Saskatchewan district health boards supported the general goals of health care reform and believed that changes already undertaken had been positive. There were few major differences in views between appointed and elected members and between provider and nonprovider members. However, tensions related to authority and representation will require resolution.
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