16 April 2004
London Evening Standard
Patients are being told to wait up to two years for potentially life-saving health checks, it is revealed today.
An Evening Standard investigation has exposed a massive backlog in the number of people waiting for MRI scans.
Many patients have to wait weeks just to join the waiting list, meaning real waits can approach two years.
It means some with serious conditions, such as brain tumours, may not be diagnosed until too late. Doctors today warned lives could be at risk.
Tens of thousands of patients a year need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The machines scan soft body tissue and can help identify conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
But hospitals say the £1 million machines often lie idle due to lack of staff. The scale of the backlog emerged after King's College Hospital said its average wait for "non-urgent" referrals was 18 months. A survey of NHS trusts in London revealed most expect patients to wait about six months. NHS budget rises mean many hospitals have invested in scanners, but thousands of radiographers are needed.
Professor Richard Wise of Imperial College London, who frequently refers patients for MRI scans, said: "I saw a patient last week who had waited nine months. They were pretty hacked off. It is much more difficult to practise good medicine with delays of this sort."
GPs cannot send patients for MRI scans - patients must first see a specialist. Waiting lists for outpatient appointments with specialists have fallen fast, but more than 160,000 people still wait more than three months.
Professor Wise said: " If someone has a brain tumour, and they have
to wait months and months for a scan, they are dead."
Copyright © 2004, Associated New Media