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MRI: The wait goes on

Over a third of Wairarapa patients seeking MRIs are waiting more than 40 days for a scan.
Despite wait times improving, recent data indicates only 66 per cent of Wairarapa MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] referrals are seen within the targeted six-week time period, well below the Ministry of Health’s 90 per cent target.
Out of the 585 referrals in Wairarapa this year, more than 200 patients waited longer than six weeks for a scan and results.
There are 50 people currently on the waitlist.
The lack of an MRI is a longstanding issue in Wairarapa, with the health district [formerly the District Health Board] the only district in New Zealand without the service.
Te Whatu Ora, Health NZ confirmed yesterday that an MRI service in the region was currently under investigation.
It admitted providing an MRI service was a priority, but could not commit to implementation or a timeframe.
“This will be dependent on the outcome of the investigations.”
In March last year, Wairarapa District Health Board [DHB] reported less than half of patient referrals [42 per cent] were seen within the required time.
A source spoken to by the Times-Age, said it was typical to wait up to six months for a scan, resulting in under-referring, and attributed the bulk of the issue to the merging of services between Wairarapa and Hutt Hospital several years ago.
They said it was a huge challenge, especially with acute conditions, when the closest MRI was at the Lower Hutt hospital, some 84km away.
Nick Perkins, who lives with multiple sclerosis, said he would love to see an MRI option in the region, but stressed the need for local specialists.
“It is putting the cart before the horse to a certain degree, as currently very few [if any] of the specialists that can refer for an MRI are available in Wairarapa.
“Generally the requirement to see said specialists are more frequent than the need to get an MRI.”
However, waiting lists were a bigger concern due to the amalgamated health services across the lower North Island.
“The bigger MRI issue, in general, is the backlog and lack of capacity across the entire 3DHB region [Capital and Coast, Hutt, and Wairarapa] meaning the wait to get an MRI, even in Wellington or Palmerston North, can be months.”
MRIs are vital in detecting a range of health conditions including cancer, heart and vascular disease, nerve damage, and muscular and bone abnormalities.
The longest MRI wait time experienced by a Wairarapa patient this year was 124 days.
Te Whatu Ora Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley director of provider services Joy Farley said there were many reasons for delays.
“It can include the need to provide care and treatment for other patients with more urgent needs, staff absence – for example, staff being unwell or needing to care for loved ones who are unwell or isolating – and occasions where patients have asked to reschedule for personal reasons.”
She said all patients were scheduled or rescheduled for the nearest available date.
MRI wait times for Wairarapa patients improved month on month until April this year.
Figures provided by Wairarapa DHB showed that in January, just 46 per cent of patients received results in the six-week time frame. That figure was 62 per cent in February, and 77 per cent in March and April.
Farley said there was increased demand for services, including patients with “high acuity … and complex conditions”.
“We recognise that it can be frustrating for people who experience delays or deferrals.”

Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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