MRI machines underused despite long wait times

Quebec's health minister came under fire on Thursday after media revealed MRI and CT scan machines are widely underused in hospitals, despite long waiting lists. Getty Images / File

Quebec’s health minister came under fire for the third day in a row during question period on Thursday, this time over a report in the French-language newspaper La Presse which found that MRI and CT scan machines are widely underused in hospitals, despite long waiting lists.

READ MORE: Quebecers waiting too long for public services: ombudsperson’s report

The La Presse report looked at the 15 hospitals in the province with the longest wait times for MRI and CT scans and found that a majority of the machines were operating far below capacity.

The machines are supposed to run for 16 hours a day, all days of the week, but at the CHUM, for example, the six machines there are operating on average only eight hours a day. More than 7,000 patients are currently on the waitlist.

The MUHC responded in a statement: “The MUHC has some CTs and MRIs that are idle and the MSSS is aware of this. We are in discussions with them and additional funding is in the process of being allocated so we can enhance patient’s access to imaging services.

“Currently, our staff makes every attempt to improve accessibility so no MRI or CT machine is left unused during its allotted schedule. The data published in LaPresse this morning do not take into account that our numbers include a pediatric hospital, which is not the case elsewhere. This decreases our overall performance numbers,” the statement read.

READ MORE: Quebec has longest emergency room wait times in western world: report

“Everyone knows someone in Quebec who’s been told, ‘You can have a scan, but the wait time is six months to a year.’ By contrast, if you go to a private clinic, you can have one next week,” Parti Quebecois (PQ) health critic Diane Lamarre said during question period. “The minister promised MRIs would be open 16 hours a day where necessary. That’s not what’s happening.”

Story continues below advertisement

Lamarre accused Health Minister Gaetan Barrette of purposely allowing this problem to persist in the public system in order to benefit the private system.

The health minister denied that. He said he invested close to $7 million last year in order to operate the machines for 16 hours a day, but he acknowledged that personnel must be available as well in order to operate the machines.

“The message I’m still sending to the network is: ‘You have machines, hire people, and make those machines run 16 hours a day when personnel is available. The money’s there,'” Barrette said.

Barrette said in the last year, hospitals have conducted 50,000 more CT scans and over 40,000 more MRIs. He qualified his investment as a “success.”

READ MORE: Minister says Quebec ER doctors should work more

This latest problem in Quebec’s health-care system comes one day after the province’s optometrists announced they were withdrawing from the public health-care system, the RAMQ, and only two days after the health minister was attacked for not dealing with a nursing labour shortage that was causing hospital nurses to work excessive amounts of overtime.

READ MORE: Quebec health minister called ‘arrogant,’ blamed by opposition for nurses’ exhaustion

Barrette said it is “obvious” what is happening: “In an election year, everybody is coming up and asking for this and that. And that’s the thing that I think the population is expecting. Obviously, I’m not only expecting it, but I’m living it,” Barrette said.