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B.C. touts success of new MRI strategy but lacks wait time proof

VICTORIA — B.C.’s health minister is touting the success of his strategy to expand the number of MRI scans done in the province, but can’t definitively show that it has reduced waiting times for the diagnostic procedure.

Adrian Dix said Thursday that the number of MRIs done in the past year has risen by 43,993 scans, or an increase of 23 per cent. In some regions, the increase has been more dramatic. In Northern Health, which had the worst rate of MRI scans in Canada, the number of MRIs jumped almost 87 per cent.

“It is an extraordinary achievement for the public health care system in British Columbia to do this in one year,” said Dix.

Last year B.C. began running 10 of the province’s 33 MRI machines 24 hours a day, seven days a week and bought two privately owned MRI clinics  in the Fraser Valley to expand capacity, said Dix.

Increasing the use of public machines cost $11 million. The cost of buying the private clinics has not been released. Government is adding another $5.25 million to the MRI budget next year, which Dix said will fund 15,000 additional MRI scans.

But Dix was unable to back up the detailed MRI stats with similarly detailed figures that show chronically long waiting times are decreasing across the province. He said his ministry is still trying to compile those figures.

A Health Ministry document obtained by Postmedia News in 2018 that showed waiting times as long as 364 days for MRIs in some locations.

Dix insisted waits have dropped. “We obviously get numbers throughout the year and they show wait times improving in all the health authorities in particular Northern Health and Fraser Health where wait times were longest,” he said.

A technician operates an MRI machine. Four more scanners will be bought for installation in B.C. hospitals in 2018, the health ministry announced Thursday.


A technician operates an MRI machine.

JEFF MCINTOSH /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The government provided partial data, including how waits for MRIs in Northern Health decreased to 29 days from 57 days for average patients as a result of the increased scanning hours.

At St. Paul’s Hospital, where MRIs are running 24 hours daily, waiting times have dropped to two days from 40 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list and to 38 days from 98 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

At Burnaby Hospital, where MRIs also run 24 hours, waiting times dropped to 30 days from 90 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list, and to 154 days from 249 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

At University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George, where the machines don’t run 24/7, waiting times dropped to 17 days from 42 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list and to 44 days from 266 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

Dix said the success of purchasing the two private MRI clinics and putting them in the public system may lead to similar purchases of private surgical centres to reduce surgical waiting times.

“I think we have to be entrepreneurial about this question,” he said.

“There are a lot of things (that are) good, I think some times, about community and smaller surgical centres. They take less time to build than to increase surgical capacity in a hospital,” he said. “We have to look at that absolutely to increase the capacity of the system to perform surgeries.”

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