MRI wait 'unacceptable'

Abbotsford News

By Jeff Nagel

Wait times for non-urgent MRI scans have ballooned to 20 months in Abbotsford, according to figures released by the Ministry of Health. In addition, the wait is as much as 18 months at several Lower Mainland hospitals, according to a survey released by the NDP.

NDP health critic Adrian Dix said the estimates were gathered by calling booking clerks at each hospital and asking for the next available time for a non-emergency doctor-referred MRI.

Surrey Memorial, Abbotsford Regional, Burnaby and Royal Columbian hospitals all reported waits of 18 months, he said. The ministry, however, reports Surrey's is actually 15 months and Burnaby is 12 while confirming RCH takes 18 months and Abbotsford 20.

Dix blamed budget restraint at local health authorities imposed by the provincial government.

"This is an effort to de-list diagnostic care," Dix said. "They are essentially taking away public coverage for MRIs and driving people to some kind of private system."

Because patients wait longer for diagnostic scans, he added, they end up waiting longer for surgery as well.

The MRI waits claimed by the NDP are about three times as long as last summer, when Fraser Health officials estimated most patients were waiting five to seven months.

"When you have 12- to 18-month wait lists, Houston, clearly we have a problem," Health minister Kevin Falcon said. "It certainly isn't acceptable in my mind."

Falcon said the system is struggling to cope with virtually limitless demand for MRI scans, which don't necessarily lead to better health outcomes.
Urgent or emergency cases are done immediately, he stressed.

Falcon wants to look at tightening the guidelines for MRI referrals to ensure scans aren't performed frivolously.

Also in the works is a consolidation of diagnostic services by the Lower Mainland health authorities that aims to achieve a 10 per cent cut in spending in that area.

The Health Sciences Association that represents unionized hospital staff says it has been given notice of potential layoffs and is launching a campaign to oppose the cuts.

Falcon said the savings from the merged services will come from more efficient use of staff and equipment and reduced bureaucracy - not by reducing scans.

"There will be no reduction in the volume of diagnostics done, but we are going to be utilizing the existing resources much better," he said.

Despite the demand, some MRI scanners sit idle much of the time.
New MRI machines were opened last year at hospitals like Peace Arch and Burnaby because local residents raised money to buy them, but the overall budget for scans has been capped so the extra capacity is unused.

Just over 20,000 MRI scans are budgeted for 2010-11 in Fraser Health, according to Falcon.

Waits for elective MRIs at hospitals in the Fraser Health and Coastal regions according to the Ministry of Health:
- Abbotsford Regional Hospital: 20 months
- Royal Columbian Hospital: 18 months.
- Surrey Memorial Hospital: 15 months
- Peace Arch Hospital: 12 months
- Burnaby Hospital: 12 months
- Vancouver General Hospital: 14 months
- Lions Gate Hospital: 12 months
- Richmond Hospital: 12 months
- UBC hospital: 10 months

Copyright 2010 Abbotsford News