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West Van MLA raises alarm on wait times for MRIs

West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Karin Kirkpatrick also questions when a new MRI machine will be installed at Lions Gate Hospital a year after funds were raised
Radiologists are raising the alarm about delays in access to medical imaging in B.C.

West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Karin Kirkpatrick is raising the alarm on increasing wait times for medical imaging in B.C.

Lengthy delays for diagnostic scans like MRIs, mammograms, CT scans and ultrasounds mean serious medical conditions like cancer are being caught later, said Kirkpatrick.

“The wait lists are extraordinary now,” she said. “Much higher than they have been in the past.”

Radiologists she’s spoken with are warning there’s going to be "a tsunami of Stage 4 cancer” down the road, she said.

Kirkpatrick is also questioning why a successful fundraising campaign for a new MRI machine at Lions Gate Hospital has not yet translated into having that equipment installed a year after funds were raised, despite the obvious need.

Dr. Charlotte Yong-Hing, president of the B.C. Radiological Society, said the crisis in wait times for medical scans is like that affecting other parts of the medical system.

“Right now there are hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for medical imaging throughout the province.... The wait times are dangerously long,” she said, adding those lists apply to most types of imaging.

Cancer diagnoses delayed

Radiologists are particularly worried about waits that are delaying cancer diagnoses and treatment. “The longer you wait, the more it spreads,” said Yong-Hing.

For people who are called back for abnormal results on screening tests like breast mammograms that need further investigation, delays are particularly worrying, she added.

“I’ve talked to a number of patients who had a six-month delay,” she said.

Yong-Hing said the delays are being caused by lack of imaging technologists to run the machines and lack of radiologists to interpret the scans, as well as outdated equipment. People in some areas of the province, like northern B.C., don’t even have access to the medical imaging they need and must travel significant distances every time they need a scan, she said.

Yong-Hing said radiologists are also worried about the strain on community imaging clinics that perform scans like ultrasounds and diagnostic mammograms outside of hospital settings. Already some of those clinics have had to cut their hours because staff just aren’t available, she said.

Wait for new MRI at Lions Gate Hospital questioned

Kirkpatrick said she'd like to know why it’s taking so long to get a new MRI machine into Lions Gate.

“The money has been raised,” she said.

The Lions Gate Hospital Foundation completed a successful campaign to raise $7 million to purchase a second, more technologically advanced MRI machine and pay for renovations for a new MRI suite at the hospital.

According to information put out by the foundation during the campaign, the existing MRI at Lions Gate does more than 8,000 scans a year, but half of all patients needing one still must travel elsewhere for an appointment.

The new MRI would also provide better diagnostic images for conditions ranging from brain conditions like dementia and multiple sclerosis to cancer to joint conditions.

But installation of the new machine isn’t scheduled to be finished until 2024.

In response to questions from the North Shore News, Vancouver Coastal Health issued a statement saying the highest priority patients – who need to be seen urgently either within 24 hours or within seven days – are still getting their MRIs within the clinical guideline timeframe.

Wait times are longer for less-urgent cases. Patients supposed to be seen within 30 days currently have wait times of between three to five months, and patients supposed to be seen within 60 days are currently waiting four to six months, according to VCH.

Finding appointments like medical 'Hunger Games', says MLA

Patients can also choose to book their MRIs and other diagnostic tests at locations throughout the Lower Mainland in order to get an appointment sooner.

Kirkpatrick, who was diagnosed and successfully treated for breast cancer herself last year, said the process of patients having to track down available appointments is both stressful and frustrating.

“It was like the Hunger Games,” she said. “I would go anywhere, anytime – in the middle of the night in Abbotsford. As soon as someone tells you you probably have cancer, you just want to get it out of you.”

Vancouver Coastal Health stated in an email it is “reviewing options for the installation of the new MRI machine at Lions Gate Hospital.”

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