Answers sought over scan waiting time

Carol Bryan holds letters she has received from Southern District Health Board responding to her...
Carol Bryan holds letters she has received from Southern District Health Board responding to her concerns about waiting times. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A Dunedin woman waiting for an MRI scan deemed routine by Dunedin Hospital believes some patients are classified as low priority to make the waiting list look better.

Carol Bryan (59), who lives in Outram, said Dunedin Hospital needed a second MRI machine, as the hospital's single scanner was not keeping up.

She did not think her case should be ranked low priority, and said other patients were wrongly classified, too. She said many of those affected by the long waiting times at the radiology department were too frightened to complain. She urged people to write to the Southern District Health Board, and their MP, to ask why Dunedin had only one public MRI scanner.

The Otago Daily Times reported last week patients were waiting 35 weeks for routine MRI, 40 weeks for routine CT, and 26 weeks for routine ultrasound scans. There were also unscheduled waiting lists for MRI and CT scans.

Mrs Bryan, who has complained to the board and the Health and Disability Commissioner, said the reported waiting times did not reveal the extent of the problem.

Southland Hospital's radiology service is being used to relieve the situation, but Mrs Bryan understood that hospital was now being pressured by Dunedin referrals.

She was referred for an MRI in mid-November, and would not be scanned until February 20, despite accepting the Southland option to avoid waiting. She was also concerned about fuel costs being shouldered by patients. The situation had caused confusion, as she initially understood her costs would be met, but was then advised that was not the case.

Travelling to Invercargill also meant taking a day's annual leave.

Mrs Bryan had a large tumour removed from the base of her spine in 2010, and afterwards spent eight months on crutches. About a year ago, she started to feel unwell, and was referred to the ear, nose, and throat department for investigation. It took about four months to secure a specialist appointment.

Women's, children's and public health general manager Elaine Chisnall, in an email, apologised for ''any confusion'' over travel costs, which had to be met by patients.

Patients were given priority rankings using a clinical assessment, and those decisions were made irrespective of waiting lists, Ms Chisnall said.

''We recognise that waiting times for MRIs at Dunedin Hospital are too long and are working to reduce these through a number of ways, including using Southland Hospital when capacity permits.''

Health board chief executive Carole Heatly wrote to Mrs Bryan in December, and said buying a second machine cost too much, both to buy and operate.

''Whilst it would be very nice to purchase a second scanner, the reality is that it is very expensive (around $3 million) ...

''It is an enormous investment of taxpayer dollars.

''Therefore, we need to ensure we are utilising all options in the district,'' the letter said.

The board has cracked down on medical outsourcing because of overspending on outsourced procedures in 2011-12.

Otago Radiology general manager Paul Morrison said the private provider had noticed a ''significant decrease'' since last July in board-funded MRI and CT scans.

''We have significant capacity available, particularly in CT, and are more than happy to provide assistance when asked,'' Mr Morrison said.

At the hospital advisory committee last week, patient services director Lexie O'Shea said further work was needed to understand the causes of the long waits in Dunedin.

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