SURREY — The B.C. government is vowing to reduce wait times for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams, a move that’s being praised by the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU).
The NDP government announced Tuesday that 37,000 more MRIs will be done throughout the province by the end of March 2019, compared to the previous year.
Wait times for MRI exams in B.C. are long, with 50 per cent of patients waiting more than 41 days, and 10 per cent waiting more than 199 days.
At the end of 2016-17, B.C.’s per capita rate for MRI exams was 37 per 1,000 population, far below the national average of 55.5.
“This is a bold step to dramatically increase the number of MRI exams being done in B.C., and this coming year alone, the increase will be close to 20 per cent,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix in a release, who made the announcement Tuesday morning at Surrey’s Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre.
“We are delivering on our promise to restore services and find capacity in our public health-care system so that British Columbians don’t have to wait months and months for prescribed exams,” he added. “We know that by rebuilding and expanding capacity in the public system, we will improve access to care and patient outcomes.”
The provincial government says under the B.C. Surgical and Diagnostic Strategy, 225,000 MRI exams will be completed in 2018-19, up from 188,000 in 2017-18.
To meet these targets, the province says it’s making $11 million available to the public health care system.
In a press release Tuesday, the HEU called the move an “important step” in putting B.C. “firmly on the road to renewal when it comes to building the capacity of our public health care system.”
“Timely access to necessary health care services is the right of all British Columbians,” said Jennifer Whiteside, HEU secretary-business manager.
“Citizens should not be forced to choose between waiting for months for a needed medical service, or paying privately,” she added. “The previous government’s lack of investment in the public provision of services like MRIs needlessly undermined patient care and put B.C. well behind the rest of Canada.”
The NDP says it will achieve its MRI targets by operating existing machines longer to accommodate additional exams; establishing centralized intake at a regional level that will reduce duplicate referrals and appointments, and prevent wasted operating time, while also offering patients the earliest appointment available in a region, as appropriate; installing already-planned MRI machines; and adding additional capacity to the public system.
MRI is one of the tools used to diagnose a number of medical conditions, including abnormalities of the brain, as well as tumours, cysts and soft-tissue injuries in other parts of the body. An early diagnosis can lead to early treatment, which can positively affect people’s quality of life and return them to being contributing members of their communities and the economy.
On March 21, Premier John Horgan announced the province’s surgical strategy to complete approximately 9,400 more surgeries within the public health-care system by the end of March 2019. The strategy aims to improve access to surgery through a “more-efficient surgical system, and help the province catch up and keep up with demand.”