Less time for scanning

Despite long waiting times for routine MRI and CT scans, Dunedin Hospital's scanners run for an hour less each day than in Invercargill.

In Dunedin, where patients at last count waited 35 weeks for a routine MRI, and 40 weeks for a routine CT, the machines run from 8.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

In Southland, where patients were scanned within target times, the scanners run from 8am to 5pm, each weekday. Target wait times there are 12 weeks for CT and 16 weeks for MRI.

In both centres, the scanners were used outside normal hours for urgent cases, Southern District Health Board said in a statement. Increasing running times of the machines was being considered to cut waiting times.

Southland Hospital is being used to help relieve some of the pressure on Dunedin Hospital. Patients referred there have to pay their own travel costs. In December, health board chief executive Carole Heatly wrote to Outram woman Carol Bryan, who was waiting for an MRI, and told her purchasing a second machine was not being considered because of cost, but the board was trying to better utilise its machine.

''At the moment, the [MRI] scanner only runs for eight hours daily and we are working to try and increase those hours,'' the letter said. The Dunedin machine scanned about a dozen patients each day, Ms Heatly's letter said.

When contacted, Mrs Bryan said she believed the scanner should be operated for a longer time each day, and Dunedin should buy a second machine, because of the ageing population, and large student population.

Dunedin woman Sophie Barker travelled to Sydney for an MRI a couple of years ago because it was cheaper than a private scan in Dunedin, and she did not want to wait for a public hospital procedure.

When contacted, Ms Barker said: ''The waiting time [in Dunedin] is absolutely ridiculous and incredibly stressful.''

Southern District Health Board deputy chairman Paul Menzies said the management team was working hard to resolve the issue, but it was not a straightforward problem to fix.

''It's always a resourcing issue, mostly around human resources, availability of these people, and the number you can employ.''

Otago and Southland would soon have four CT scanners, when Dunstan received its machine this year, so it was important to adopt a regional view, he said.


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